San Francisco November 2016

San Francisco
November 2016

Ballot analysis and recommendations

Overview chevron_right Prop G
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Prop G

Police Oversight

Department of Police Accountability

Changes the name of the Office of Citizen Complaints to the Department of Police Accountability, separates the department’s budget from the budget of the police department and requires regular audits of police officer misconduct and use of force.

Vote YES

What the Measure Would Do

Proposition G would amend the City Charter to rename the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) as the Department of Police Accountability (DPA) and would eliminate the requirement that the Police Commission approve the DPA’s proposed budget and instead allow the department’s proposed budget to be submitted directly to the mayor.

Prop. G would make explicit the DPA’s right to access city records, including police department policies and practices, as well as personnel records, disciplinary records and criminal investigative files. Every two years, the department would conduct a performance audit of how the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has handled claims of officer misconduct and use of force. The measure would maintain the current staffing requirements of the OCC in the new department: no fewer than one investigator for every 150 sworn police officers. The director of the DPA would still be nominated by the Police Commission, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors. The measure would mandate that the DPA director could not have served as a uniformed officer or employee of the SFPD.

If Prop. H, Establishing a Public Advocate, is passed this November, it would remove the power to appoint the director of the OCC/DPA from the mayor and place that power in the hands of the new public advocate.

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The Backstory

Created in 1982 by a ballot measure, the Office of Citizen Complaints investigates allegations brought by members of the public regarding wrongdoing by SFPD officers. OCC’s investigators look for breaches of SFPD protocol, and the office can make recommendations to the Police Commission for disciplining officers who break the rules. The OCC is overseen by the Police Commission, which also oversees the SFPD.

In the past year there has been a series of troubling revelations about the SFPD, including ongoing, disproportionate arrest rates for people of color, the exposure of racist and homophobic communications within the department, and multiple fatal police shootings of people of color, culminating in the resignation of the former police chief in May. At the request of the mayor, the SFPD is now being reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s community policing division, which is expected to release recommendations to the department by early fall.

Several immediate local reform efforts have involved the OCC. A June 2016 ballot measure (Prop. D), supported by 80.9 percent of voters, amended the OCC’s responsibilities to require that the OCC investigate any incident where the discharge of a firearm by the SFPD results in the physical injury or death of a person. Previously, the OCC only investigated cases in which an official complaint was filed or a person died. Advocates for Prop. D aimed to build on the momentum of that measure’s passage in June by bringing this second reform to the ballot this November.

This measure was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors and must be on the ballot because it is a charter amendment. The measure requires a simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) to pass.

Pros

  • By giving the OCC full control of its budget, this measure would remedy an apparent conflict of interest. The OCC investigates misconduct in the SFPD, but its budget is currently reviewed and approved by the Police Commission, which governs the SFPD.

  • An automatic audit of how the SFPD treats claims of officer misconduct and use of force is a reasonable step toward increased transparency around police incidents of special concern to the public.

  • Better sharing of report findings from case to case might aid reforms needed to reduce police misconduct and repair the relationship between law enforcement and communities that have been unjustly treated.

  • As a charter amendment, this change to the structure of government belongs on the ballot.

Cons

  • Concerns have been raised that the OCC is not managed in a way that prioritizes serious cases of officer misconduct and that its investigators receive insufficient training. This measure would not address these challenges to the OCC’s effectiveness in carrying out its duties.

SPUR’S Recommendation

A civilian oversight body with the proper resources, independence and disciplinary power is a key part of a community strategy to end police violence and restore trust in law enforcement and government. Removing the oversight body from the budgetary control of the department it investigates is a common-sense good government policy and a good use of the ballot. Endowing the OCC with more budgetary autonomy could allow the department to better manage its resources and priorities and increase its effectiveness.

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