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The Sleeping Giants Awaken

October 1, 2023
Tracy McCray - SFPOA President

SF Residents Engaging in Public Safety Policies

For too long, we’ve seen our City’s policies, specifically public safety policies, driven and dictated by individuals and special interests with extreme views. Law and order, and communal safety and security, were thrown by the wayside in favor of social experiments that destroyed personal accountability and portrayed perpetrators as victims instead of predators. Throughout that time, no one said anything. (Well, no one but the SFPOA and a small pocket of residents and business owners who were always shamed and shouted down).

We’ve all felt that there was this “silent majority” out there that valued safety and a commonsense approach to achieving safety. Well, they’re not so silent anymore. They woke up to take out Chesa Boudin. They woke up to restructure the school board. And now that they’re awake, they’ve set their eyes on the San Francisco Police Commission. And let me tell you, the Commission is not too excited about it. Neither are the police haters that blame all of our city’s woes on us.

How do I know? Because of all the POA-hate posts sent my way, crying about how the SFPOA put citizens up to this. It’s funny because we did no such thing. It’s even more funny because the commissioners running scared are severely underestimating how upset regular citizens are at the Commission’s non-stop assault on our safety via policy. Once residents hear what the Commission is up to, they’re alarmed and they’re now jumping to action.

Recently, a group of San Francisco citizens decided to take it upon themselves to become informed about the Police Commission’s agenda as it pertains to proposed policies for the San Francisco Police Department.

Residents are seeing that the interlocking system of Department General Orders (DGO), Department Notices, Unit/Bureau orders creates a system of handcuffed officers unable to use their expertise and common sense to do their jobs safely and effectively. It’s gotten so bad that one SFPD officer took the time to count all the “SHALLS” just in SFPD policy (shalls meaning what we must do versus having discretion). The count is approximately 1,500 in just our policies and procedures. That’s before we get to the codes: Police, Municipal, Traffic, Penal, Health and Safety, CVC, etc.; you get the picture. We have a ton of reading material! Oh, let us not forget the State Constitution along with the US Constitution!

So, this group of private citizens is zeroing in on the new DGO’s the Police Commission has teed up that impact actual street-level operations and investigations: 5.25 Foot Pursuits, 6.21 social media, and 9.07 Pretext Stops.

Pretext Stops

The Commission, following what seems to be fashionable versus what is working in San Francisco, continues to push forward with the pretext stop policy, despite the fact that an equivalent at the state level, SB 50, died in the Legislature. That was the California state equivalent of the Police Commission’s pretext stop debacle or debate. Apparently it’s going to be a downright fight with us as we will not rollover on any policy that jeopardizes our ability to get dangerous criminals off our streets, especially considering the level of gun violence we’ve experienced over the last 3 years. Regular citizens understand the value of pretext stops and are righty upset by the wholesale abolishment proposed by the Commission.

Foot Pursuits

If you want proof that our Police Commission has zero clue on how we do our job, look no further than the foot pursuit policy. Engaging in a foot pursuit is a tactical decision that is up to the individual officer, who, now, must weigh the risks versus the rewards. The document states that the purpose is to: “…provide officers with guidance regarding when to initiate, continue, or end foot pursuits.” Really? Do I really need a four-page document to define when what a foot pursuit is and when it is appropriate to pursue a suspect? Do I need to mark off the twelve-point safety checklist before I chase after a criminal?

The ironic part of the policy is that it actually says, “Initiating or continuing a foot pursuit is a decision that an officer must make quickly under unpredictable and dynamic circumstances.” It’s the first sentence. The following four pages (approximately 1,000 words) systematically makes it impossible to act in a quick or dynamic manner. Using the “Shall” check, this policy clocks in at 12 shalls, roughly 3 per page.

Again, the public sees the holes in these policies. Does an officer need a Sergeant or Lieutenant’s approval to initiate a foot pursuit? Can an officer sustain a prolonged chase of a person wearing twenty pounds of gear on through terrain that might not be favorable? Should we chase a suspect we can identify and apprehend later? Say we catch the suspect; at that point, do we have the energy to sustain their level of resistance if a physical fight ensues? Because, as the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi said, he wanted suspects to fight the police; he said it was their right to do so. Can I run and talk at the same time when my adrenaline increases? Again, that decision should be the officer’s and not people having the benefit of hindsight.

Old School Foot Pursuit

I remember working the midnight shift in the Ingleside district, when my partner and I responded to a burglary alarm at the corner store located at Diamond and Chenery. As we pulled up in our patrol car, we saw the suspect exit through the broken front windowpane. Well, my partner jumps out and gives chase on foot, while I floor the car and give chase since the suspect decided to run up Diamond St. (If you know, you know.)

Well, just past Sussex, the suspect runs out of gas, with me yelling through the open passenger side window, “I have a full tank of gas, and I can chase you all night long.” His best option was to get on the ground, which he happily did since he was out of breath. As I got out with my weapon drawn, I could hear my partner, God bless her, running up the hill, completely out of breath, and collapse onto the suspect as she struggled to say, “you are under arrest.” It is one of my greatest memories, but again, a tactical decision that ended with a suspect in custody. Under this policy, we probably would be deemed out of policy.

Social Media Policy

Now, the social media DGO is interesting in that, obviously, if criminals want to livestream and post the crimes they are committing, the police should be doing everything in their power to use whatever is posted to arrest and convict them! The people putting the content out are responsible for it. They are posting for the world to see. The proper response to the police should be thank you.

But right now, the response by those on the commission is, handcuff the police with hoops to jump through because they would rather protect those who commit crimes, even those who brazenly not only film them but also post them. I am sure people saw the godawful killing of the retired police chief riding his bicycle early in the morning, when two teenagers drove up and ran their stolen vehicle straight into him, killing him. They laughed and bragged as they filmed the tragedy. So, I would ask the commission, you don’t want us to be able to obtain that video unless it went through the approval process and fit into the six-page procedure. Now who is being foolish?

If Police Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone (MCO to his friends) reads this, he’ll have a conniption fit and take to Twitter posting that the policy does not say that an officer cannot use social media to address crimes. And in his use of the double negative lies the exact problem with this “shall” solicitor. What an officer is allowed to do is clear as mud, but the consequences are so fresh and so clean: break the “shall,” pay the price. Fourteen “shalls” in, the policy states: “Members/employees shall not: use their own personal social media account or personal account information to access social media content for investigations.” This doesn’t apply to those officers assigned to investigations. It applies to EVERYONE. And who defines “investigation”? Well, ultimately MCO and company.

Public Action on Commission Policies

In a short period of time, over two hundred responses have been sent to the Commission regarding these DGOs via jot-forms, which has a pre-written synopsis of the issue that an individual can email to the Police Commission. I am glad people of San Francisco are getting involved and voicing their opinions. God knows the pro-criminal, anti-police crowd have used their voices for years to drown out reason and commonsense.

However, in some political circles, and with some commissioners, all comments were not created equal.

It is apparent that an individual supports the police and expresses frustration with an (unelected) appointed body, it makes people angry. Quite naturally, the default is to blame the POA. Go ahead.

I do not care if they blame us. I care that the impetus for their anger is that the citizens are beginning to understand that these proposed policies do not just affect the police, but they affect everyone who lives, works and visits San Francisco. I care that with their voices, we might get back to a semblance of law and order, safety, and security.

We are the only entity in town that cannot have other people coming to our defense and agreeing with us without someone crying foul. But you have so-called “objective” journalists coming to the rescue of the Police Commission when they start feeling a little bit of pressure. Why? If they can’t stand the pressure of a little criticism, they can be replaced. Think about it, some residents complain about their performance and it leads to whining and cry as if they were on the playground, not getting their gold participation star for showing up to recess. Grow up! Where would we be if police officers were that thin-skinned?

Spirited debate is supposed to be the cornerstone of our democracy. It’s supposed to be the American way! Everyone should have a voice. Everyone should be heard. And not everyone has the ability to sit around all evening waiting to be called for public comment midweek. So, if they express their concerns in an alternative manner, they should be welcomed, not questioned. Organization is a beautiful thing when done properly and with conviction!

It appears that the days of passing dangerous policies during obscure “public meetings” (that no one attends) without being challenged is over. The sleeping giant is awake. They’d do well to respect these residents. I really hope that more of those jot forms get sent to the Police Commission, we’ll be better off if they do.