From approving policy on body cameras to firing police officers found guilty of misconduct, Wednesday nights are reserved for scrutiny of police practices at the San Francisco Police Commission.
The seven-member civilian panel acts as the police department’s disciplinary body and officially meets once a week for a public hearing, usually at City Hall, to receive updates from department heads, set policy, and decide on disciplinary actions against officers.
The Commission is also tasked with with overseeing the Office of Citizen Complaints, a separate city department that investigates officer misconduct reported by civilians
With tenures ranging from 2 to 12 years, four of the Commission’s members are appointed by the mayor and three more are selected by the Board of Supervisors. Serving on the Commission is a volunteer position, and members receive a monthly stipend of only $100 and the option of health benefits.
The Commission has in the past been criticized for backlogs of disciplinary cases.
In its June report, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Accountability, Transparency, and Fairness found that the commission is grossly understaffed. In fact, just two people are on staff to assist the Commission with administrative matters.
In recent months, members have been putting in overtime as the Commission spearheads the search for the city’s next police chief.
With the help of a hiring firm that scoured some 61 resumes, the commissioners are now tasked with interviewing and vetting the candidates, before narrowing the pool of applicants down to three. These names will be passed on to Mayor Ed Lee, who will ultimately appoint the new chief, in the coming weeks.
The applicants’ names have not been made public and will not be released until a chief is chosen.
Here is some background on the commissioners.
Suzy Loftus, President
Appointed by Mayor Ed Lee in 2012
Suzy Loftus has served as the Commission’s president since 2014, leading the panel through a time of growing community discontent after several high-profile police shootings.
Since the December 2, 2015, police shooting of Bayview resident Mario Woods, Loftus has faced hostile crowds at community meetings. Meanwhile, she said, she has attempted to find a middle ground between police and community demands as the Commission signs off on policy reforms such as a general order regulating the use of force.
“What we are endeavoring to do is reject this idea that [we are] either on the side of the police or the community,” said Loftus. “The police need a great relationship with the community, and community members want a great relationship with the police. We are endeavoring to build that.”
Loftus called her role as commissioner a “full-time job” that often competes with her two other full-time jobs — she is the mother of three and general counsel to the California Department of Justice.
Loftus previously worked for Attorney General Kamala Harris and served as San Francisco’s district attorney.
The monthly stipend allocated to the commissioners, she said, is a humbling reminder of “why we are here.”
“We are doing this is a public service,” Loftus added. As the commission’s president, she said she is often expected to put in over time.
She is married to Tom Loftus, who works for San Francisco Government Television. She also shares her last name with former San Francisco Deputy Chief of Police John Loftus, her second cousin through marriage. The 41-year-old said she often finds herself clarifying the connection.
Loftus said her only connection to the police force is through her years of serving as a prosecutor.
“People think that a prosecutor is closely affiliated with the police but it’s often – as you’ve seen in SF with our current district attorney — a tense relationship,” said the San Francisco native who currently lives in the Sunset. “You need to ask for things, you need to have an excellent product. You need to be sure there is integrity in the investigation.”
Julius M. Turman, Vice President
Appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2011
Current Police Commission Vice President L. Julius M. Turman has served on the commission since 2011 and is a labor and employment lawyer by day.
Turman said he has no ties to the police department, but has a background in drafting and implementing policy as well as knowledge of labor standards and discipline that qualify him for the Police Commission.
Turman attended law school at Rutgers University before clerking for Judge John J. Hughes in the district court of New Jersey. Turman then worked as Assistant U.S. Attorney for five years in New Jersey.
“There is a significant crossover between what I do as a professional and what I do here at the police commission,” said Turman, now a Potrero Hill resident.
Turman said he became involved with the Commission because he wanted to be involved in the “process to make change for the better,” adding that the current Commission “has fired more police officers for misconduct than any other commission.”
In the search for a police chief, Turman said that he is looking for a reformer who will implement the recommendations made by the Department of Justice, the Blue Ribbon Panel, and the Office of Citizen Complaints.
“I want someone who is going to come in and make widespread changes in a department that has existed for 150 years,” he said.
Petra DeJesus, Commissioner
Appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2005
San Francisco native Petra DeJesus, who grew up in Bernal Heights where she currently resides, became the first Latina on the Police Commission.
A full-time attorney with Kaplan Law, she represents blue-collar workers and their families who have fallen ill or died due to asbestos exposure.
DeJesus called her 10-year run on the Police Commission a “huge commitment.”
In light of the ongoing search, DeJesus said that several meetings “have gone to midnight or one in the morning, and we are meeting outside of [regular] meetings with community.”
Following a scathing review of the police department by the Blue Ribbon Panel that found systemic bias and a federal report that found the same, DeJesus has called for overhauls to the system — including the commission.
“Maybe we should be more of an appellate board [and] just have hearing officers that … are actually employed,” said DeJesus in response to criticism by the Blue Ribbon Panel that the Commission is understaffed.
She added that the panel’s semblance of being part of the police department — “we are on their website” — doesn’t help in reassuring the public that the Commission’s role is to hold the department accountable.
“Right now perception is everything,” she said. “We are supposed to be independent, but the perception to the community is that we are not.”
DeJesus started her career in poverty law, representing low-income individuals at the California Rural Legal Assistance, Mission Community Legal Defense, and the San Francisco Public Defender’s office.
She served as senior trial attorney for the Public Defender’s office for over a decade before accepting a position as general counsel for EMT Entertainment network, supervising the startup’s legal matters.
DeJesus’s younger brother, Luis DeJesus, is a police officer.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2005 that Luis DeJesus was among more than a dozen officers who were implicated in shooting unauthorized videos that were later posted on the internet .
DeJesus said she was new to the Commission when the incident unfolded, and was recused from her brother’s hearing. He remains on the force.
Dr. Joseph Marshall
Appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004
The longest-standing member of the Commission, Dr. Joseph Marshall has previously served as its president. This is the 69-year-old activist’s third search for a new police chief.
“The searches have to be very thorough and take a lot of time,” said Marshall. “I know to do it right.”
Marshall said that the Commission did an “extensive service” by reaching out to the community as well as officers in an attempt to compile a list of qualities that both contingents would like to see in the next police chief.
“We had people tell us their thoughts and set up a search firm at the Commission and collected all that info in a document that was public,” he said.
As an activist serving low-income youth from marginalized communities, Marshall said that a mind for reform and for accountability were priorities that he looked for while vetting candidates.
Marshall is the co-founder and director of the Omega Boys Club/Youth Soldiers, a youth violence prevention organization, and the founder of the Alive and Free movement.
“Historically, there’s been a gap between law enforcement and communities of color. [This gap] is exacerbated when you have incidents like we recently had in SF where the trust is fractured and broken,” said Marshall, referring to the recent shootings in the Bayview and the Mission.
The St. Louis, Missouri, native began his 25-year teaching career at San Francisco’s Woodrow Wilson High School in 1969, but turned to anti-violence advocacy in 1994. Today, he is well-known for his work as an author, lecturer, and radio show host. Marshall is also the father of three children.
“Many of my former students ended up on drugs, selling drugs or dead — I went to so many funerals of former students I couldn’t take it any more,” he said, adding that he started the Boys Club as way of keeping connected to “my own students and keeping them alive and free.”
Marshall said that when he first got to the Commission, he faced a backlog of about 80 officer disciplinary cases. Though that number has been reduced, Marshall said, the system is not perfect.
“People don’t have any idea about how much discipline work commissioners do. The chief can’t fire anybody — if there is someone they believe should be terminated, it’s up to the commission.”
Sonia Melara, Commissioner
Appointed by Mayor Lee in 2014
With over 30 years of experience in in social work, Commissioner Sonia Melara is the executive director of Rally Family Visitation Services of Saint Francis and is a part-time lecturer at San Francisco State University.
Melara called her time on the commission “intense,” but attributed it to the circumstances. “We are trying to move as fast as we can — at the same time we have to ensure that the process is equitable and also very transparent in many ways,” she said, in reference to the search for police chief.
From El Salvador, Melara grew up in the Mission for a majority of her childhood. Now a resident of West Portal, she is married with no children.
She said her years of work on domestic violence recovery – she is the co-founder of La Casa de las Madres, California’s first shelter for survivors of domestic violence – and her time on the Immigrants Rights Commission and the Health Commission have allowed her to bring a different perspective to the Police Commission.
“The mayor is trying to put as much diversity on the commission as possible,” she said. “I have a completely different thinking than an attorney.”
In the vetting of candidates who wish to head the police department, Melara said she is putting a lot of weight on experience, and whether they are receptive to reform.
“As we interview potential candidates we want to see what their knowledge and experience is and whether they have been involved in similar changes in their departments,” she said.
Considering the needs of the city’s different communities, she said, is an important aspect of the decision-making process.
“My long-term involvement in women’s and Latino issues gives me a view as to the type of person that we need to bring in to head the department,” she said. “I’m very sensitive to the needs of all communities, not just one.”
Victor Hwang, Commissioner
Appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2014
Commissioner Victor Hwang has built a career on some two decades of experience with criminal law. The criminal justice and civil rights attorney is currently vying for an open judgeship in the San Francisco Superior Court.
The campaign is consuming much of Hwang’s time, about 60 to 70 hours a week, he said. Hwang is also the father of three and fiance of Ivy Lee, chief of staff to Supervisor Jane Kim.
“That makes our lives all the more crazy,” said Hwang. He also runs his own law practice, which he is starting “to phase out.”
“This morning I was at Glen Park BART station from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. talking to voters. I will be out at 24 Street BART Station later to campaign; then I have to take my kids to the dentist,” said Hwang when asked to describe his day.
A U.C. Berkeley graduate, Hwang attended the University of Southern California for law school and afterwards worked as a public defender in Los Angeles for five years. Hwang spent time on the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, and has worked extensively in the Asian American community as a civil rights attorney.
Effectively unseating former Commissioner Angela Chan, Hwang, a former prosecutor and public defender, came with the political backing of Chinatown leader Rose Pak, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Hwang acknowledged that the Police Commission is not “set to perform the functions that we are set up to do because of overload.” Each commissioner, he said, puts in about 20 hours per week.
“There is no analyst, no director — we don’t have that kind of staffing,” he said. “All of us have other jobs.”
Still, he said, the commission has effectively dealt with revising the police use-of-force policy, implemented body-worn cameras, and managed to review every candidate in its search for police chief.
“We have a very strong pool of applicants that we are looking at,” he said.
Thomas P. Mazzucco, Commissioner
Appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2007
Thomas “Tippy” Mazzucco is the son of a San Francisco police inspector and is a former federal prosecutor experienced in white-collar defense, internal fraud, and grand jury matters, as well as commercial and corporate litigation.
He currently works as an attorney for Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney, a law firm that specializes in professional liability practice.
Mazzucco previously served as assistant U.S. attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice and is a former San Francisco deputy district attorney.
The San Francisco native was renominated for his third term on the Commission by Mayor Ed Lee this year.
While president of the Commission, Mazzucco in 2012 awarded six police officers involved in gunfights with the Gold Medal of Valor – the highest honor in the police department. The Public Press reported that Mazzucco had then called the recipients “heroes.”
One of the officers honored was Richard Hastings, who had been involved in the controversial 2011 shooting of 19-year-old Kenneth Harding. Hastings was recognized for detaining Harding for evading a Muni fare in the Bayview, an interaction that was fatal for Harding. Police later said Harding was wanted for questioning in connection to a murder in Washington.
In 2013, Hastings was accused of molesting a teenage boy and plead not guilty to 10 counts of child molestation and pornography possession. Hastings reportedly faced the Police Commission and resigned from the force.
Mazzucco did not respond to requests for comment at press time.