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Supes to vote on cops contract — as new records show history of blocking reform

Documents reveal a stunning pattern of the POA trying to prevent reforms -- but a deal to give the cops raises with no concessions is still pending approval.

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The full Board of Supes will consider Tuesday a deal with the Police Officers Association that gives the cops a raise without any written commitments to reform – particularly in the much-abused “meet and confer” process, which the POA has used repeatedly to slow down and block use-of-force, transparency, and disciplinary rules.

A large organized constituency is calling for the mayor and the supes to cut spending on SFPD — but a contact before the board would give the cops raises with no accountability

The POA even tried to use a demand for “meet and confer” to derail the Charter Amendment that allows the city to set the number of cops on the force.

And as the Memorandum of Understanding heads to a Tuesday vote, newly released records show the extent of the POA’s interference with the reform process. The Bar Association of San Francisco is seeking more records that would be relevant to the decision – but as of press time, the city has not produced all of them.

The bottom line: This entire MOU has been negotiated in secret, at a time when the cops were working on their own agenda to block substantive reform – and Mayor London Breed’s administration was working behind the scenes with the POA.

In many cases over the past two years, the records show, the city’s Department of Human Resources agreed to “meet and confer” on issues that experts say shouldn’t be subject to those terms in the first place.

Meet and confer is part of labor law; the idea is that if management in a unionized workshop wants to change workplace rules in a way that impacts labor, they have to discuss it with the union.

But in the case of basic management priorities – like, for example, changes in the use-of-force rules, implementation of body-worn cameras, or decisions on the use of Tasers – the Police Commission has the right to make that policy without POA interference.

“The law is absolutely clear,” John Crew, a lawyer and longtime police reform advocate, told me. “Many of these are management issues that the city has the right to implement.”

Some of what the records show:

  • At least three times since the Police Commission banned the use of the type of chokehold that killed George Floyd, the city and the POA held “meet-and-confer” sessions on the policy.
  • Four times, the POA demanded meetings on the body-worn camera policy, and when the city couldn’t reach an agreement, the issue went to an arbitrator (the POA finally settled).
  • Four times, the POA demanded to meet and confer on Tasers – although the Police Commission had clearly banned the devices and a POA ballot measure allowing them already failed. The cops only withdrew their demand on Oct. 27 – just before the supes were set to discuss their contract.
  • Three times, the POA demanded to meet and discuss the protocols for a new state law, SB 1421, that allows more transparency in some policy misconduct cases. That’s a state law; it has nothing to do with working conditions in San Francisco.
  • The POA even demanded to meet and confer about the city’s sanctuary policies – and reached a secret agreement in November, 2019.

And all of these discussions happen in secret. If the POA wants to express its opposition to Prop. E, or to Sanctuary City, or to the Tasers, its members can speak in public before the Police Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Instead, this happens with no oversight.

The timeline around this current contract proposal and Prop. E, the charter amendment that eliminates the requirement of 1971 officers is equally interesting.

The voters clearly have the right to remove from the City Charter something that should never have been there in the first place (no other labor group in the city gets a guaranteed minimum number of workers). But the cops demanded to meet and confer.

Carol Isen, the city’s director of human relations, personally got involved, meeting with the cops on the ballot measure June 8 and June 10. She was also, at the same time, negotiating a new MOU with the POA – which the mayor needed for her budget proposal.

On June 11, Mayor Breed issued her own roadmap for police reform.

Four days later, the SF POA joined three other police unions in putting out newspaper ads with their “reform” agenda, which was not a whole lot different from the mayor’s reform agenda (except that Breed discussed redirection some police money to other priorities).

Did the Mayor’s Office and Isen discuss any of this with the cops while they were also doing “meet and confer” around Prop. E – and discussing a new POA contract?

We don’t know – and that’s part of the problem.

“Secrecy hides corruption,” Crew told me. “We didn’t have any transparency on this.”

There’s a lot more we don’t know. The Bar Association of San Francisco filed a detailed request under the Public Records Act Oct. 15 asking for documents that would shed light on this process, and on the meet-and-confer process in general.

The city has not yet provided all of those records.

At the Nov. 5 hearing on the issue, several supervisors noted that the Labor Council is supporting the contract. That’s because if the MOU with the cops (which delays their raises for a year) isn’t approved, the city will have a $10 million hole in the budget – which Breed can, on her own authority, close by laying off other city workers. (The POA dropped out of the Labor Council many years ago, and as Sup. Aaron Peskin noted at the hearing, the organization should not be called a union, but a bargaining unit.)

So now the supes face the prospect of either (a) approving a deal with the cops that provides zero written agreement that the POA will stop blocking reforms, or (b) rejecting it and giving Breed the ability to layoff other, non-police, lower-paid workers. The mayor is on record saying that she didn’t want to give public workers the raises they had bargained for and has already threatened layoffs.

Or: (c) delaying any vote on this until all of the documents the Bar Association has asked for have been provided, the whole deal has been subjected to more sunshine.

Sup Dean Preston told me he plans to vote against the deal. “It makes no sense to me,” he said. “The real question is whether you want to tie reform to the MOU.”

He noted that the $10 million “hole” in the budget is not insurmountable — “if this is how they are going to act, take it out of the Police Department budget,” he said.

On 60 Minutes Sunday night, former President Barack Obama even weighed in on the problem of police union contracts:

So if we’re going to actually solve this problem, there are some specific things we can do to make sure that our contracts with police officers don’t completely insulate them when they do something wrong.

It seems crazy that the City of San Francisco can’t do that.

The meeting starts at 2pm.

The Government Audit and Oversight Committee will hold a hearing Thursday/19 on the role of consultants in the building permit process, “in particular situations where a consultant has been charged with criminal conduct.” That’s a chance to shine a light on an ugly part of the city’s development process – high-paid permit expediters with connections to the Building Inspection Department manage to get all sorts of deals approved – while unconnected homeowners and small landlords who just want to do modest improvements get hit with long delays and high fees.

And now, with the FBI investigating DBI, there’s a lot to talk about.

The committee will also review the budget analyst audit of the Ethics Commission – which also brings in questions about the Department of Human Resources. DHR gets a lot of money transferred from Ethics every year to oversee recruitment and hiring – but Ethics is constantly short staffed.

That hearing starts at 10am.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

2 COMMENTS

  1. “A large, organized constituency.”

    That’s “the community” for real taking action, without the permission of the designated, compensated stakeholders who style themselves “the community.”

    You might as well refer to them as “special interests.”

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