Activists at a police meeting on Thursday that sought input from Mission District residents on the appointment of the next San Francisco police chief said they were being strung along by police commissioners who were not looking for community involvement.
“This is a dog and pony show,” said David Carlos Salaverry, a member of the newly formed group San Franciscans for Police Accountability, which seeks reform of the San Francisco Police Department.
He was one of several audience members at the meeting who protested when police commissioners instructed them to split into two groups and “talk amongst each other” at a community meeting held inside the Mission High School cafeteria at 3750 18th St., saying that the commissioners were not engaging in a dialogue with community members.
Instead, audience members, most of whom were activists involved in anti-police brutality campaigns, wanted a town hall style meeting where speakers are allowed to address the police commissioners one at a time.
Jim Salinas, a former police commissioner and long-time labor leader who attended the meeting, said that he was “puzzled” by the process.
“I thought there would be an exchange between the commission and the community, but this just feels awkward,” he said. In the past, Salinas said that these types of community meetings would allot community members time to voice their concerns through public comment.
Before leaving the meeting prematurely, Salinas addressed Petra DeJesus, one of the two police commissioners who facilitated the meeting, saying, “This is not what we asked for and you know why we asked you to be here today: So that the community could talk with you.”
The meeting, hosted by the San Francisco Police Commission, was the third of five community forums scheduled throughout the city until the end of August, when the application process for the next police chief is set to close.
The position became vacant after the former police chief, Greg Suhr, resigned following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black woman in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point. That came after weeks of citywide-protests calling for the chief to resign in the wake of fatal police shootings.
“The point [of this meeting] is to gather public input on what qualities and characteristics you would like to see in your next police chief,” said Police Commissioner Sonia Malerna, who facilitated the meeting alongside Police Commissioner DeJesus.
Besides what activists called a poor format for discussion, audience members said the low turnout — some 30 people attended the meeting — raised questions about extent of the outreach done by the firm hired by the city, Ralph Anderson Associates.
That firm is also responsible for aggregating applicant’s resumes and evaluating them before passing qualified candidates along to the Police Commission.
“This meeting is not representative of the Mission community at all,” said Maria Villata, a Mission resident and relative of Alex Nieto, a 27-year-old security guard who was armed with a taser when shot by four police officers on top of Bernal Hill in 2014.
“What was the outreach here?” she said, addressing the commissioners. “The school has loads of resources for you to have contacted families of this district.”
Homeless rights activist Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia questioned the firm’s involvement in the process.
“You have an outside consulting firm notifying local activists of this meeting? Did you give them a list?” she asked asked the commissioners, pointing out that many Mission community organizations were not represented at the meeting.
On Monday, Gray-Garcia led a group of activists in a rally at Mission Police Station calling for a 90-day moratorium on the use of force by officers. They also demanded that the next police chief be selected by the community, an ask commissioners said was unlikely to happen.
Instead, the Police Commission will pick three candidates from a pool of applicants to be interviewed by the mayor, who has the final say.
Audience members wanted to know whether the interim police chief, Toney Chaplin, had already been selected as one of the final candidates. Chaplin expressed interest last week in taking the job permanently and has the support of the Police Officer’s Association, the union for San Francisco police officers.
Before his appointment, Chaplin served on the Gang Task Force and in 2012 shot and injured a parolee in the Mission District. Salaverry expressed concern about his track record.
“In the next shooting, he is going to feel in alignment with the cop that did the shooting [if appointed as chief]. That’s a terrible start,” he said.
But the commissioners assured the group that the selection process would be fair, and that they had no knowledge of which candidates have submitted applications. Gary Peterson, a consultant with Ralph Anderson Associates, said he has received 16 applications for the job, one from out of the country.
He said Chaplin would be subject to the same application process and qualification requirements as any other candidate.
To ensure greater transparency to the public, John Crew, a former director for police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union, urged the commissioners to make public the names of the final three candidates, as become a standard recruitment practice in other major cities – a suggestion that commissioner DeJesus promised to present to the full commission in September.
As community members continued to weigh in on the process, several of activists in attendance snaked a banner around the cafeteria that listed the names of victims of fatal police incidents. They demanded greater accountability for police shootings from the next police chief.
“I would like a police chief who can talk to the families of those who have been killed and work with them,” said Iswari España, a candidate running for Mission District Supervisor. “We need somebody willing to look through these cases and take them seriously.”