Covering the Police is a collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Last September, it appeared that it would not be long before the District Attorney became the
lead investigator of officer-involved shootings – a recommendation by the Department of Justice
that Mayor Ed Lee quickly followed up with funding for a new unit of investigators.
Nevertheless, the newly formed Independent Investigations Bureau has yet to become the lead
investigator in officer-involved shootings. In other words, cops continue to investigate
The chief obstacle is that the Police Officer’s Association, SFPD’s powerful union, doesn’t want
an independent organization investigating its employees. This is according to Susan Gard, chief of policy at the San Francisco Human Resources Department, which will represent the city in negotiations with
the union once the SFPD and the District Attorney’s office reach an agreement.
“As seasoned and expert professional investigators, they likely feel like they’re the best people
for the job,” she said. Indeed, that’s what the union’s president Marty Halloran, who declined to
be interviewed for this article, wrote on the subject for the union’s April 2017 journal.
“Gascon’s [sic] office does not have the qualified experienced investigators, the needed staffing
for crime scene management and processing, nor the infrastructure to take over these highly
complex cases,” he wrote.
In an interview, however, Max Szabo from the District Attorney’s office pointed out that the office
now has six investigators and seven prosecuting attorneys with a vast array of experience.
Gard said there are two Memorandums of Understanding that need to be finalized before the
DA’s office becomes the lead investigator on officer-involved shootings.
The first is supposed to be between the District Attorney’s office and the SFPD. The second
memorandum will be between the two departments and any unions that believe the first
memorandum will affect them.
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The problem is that the SFPD’s union – the Police Officer’s Association – has inserted itself in
the first memorandum that will detail how each department provides services to the other. More
specifically, the memorandum will describe how the crime scenes and other elements of the
investigations should be handled between departments, and how each will provide crime scene
evidence and other records to each other.
According to a draft of the MOU obtained by the SF Examiner in March, the DA’s special unit
will take over the leading role in investigations, assisting SFPD officers with the collection of
evidence and the interviewing of witnesses.
This is to lend some objectivity to investigations.
The SFPD’s union became involved in the issue, Gard said, because the union believes it is a
matter of worker’s rights – that giving investigative power to the new unit takes work away from
officers and hands it to employees in the District Attorney’s office.
Gregg Adam, an attorney for the Police Officer’s Association, said in an email that the
association met with the Department about six months ago to give their thoughts about the
drafted MOU. They are still waiting for a response, but it appears that the SFPD shares its
Rather than refuse to accept the memorandum point-blank, Gard said, SFPD negotiators have
picked the memorandum apart nuance by nuance, slowing negotiations to a crawl.
“The devil is always in the details,” she said.
John Crew, an attorney for the ACLU, said he thinks the SFPD’s union should not have so much
power in how officer-involved shooting investigations are conducted. The independent
investigation of officer-involved shootings, he said, is a public matter more than an issue of work
rules or labor unions.
The issue, he said, was not that the officer’s association is stalling. “The scandal is that public
officials are allowing them to,” he said.
The Mayor’s office declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations.
Gard said that top officials from the SFPD and the DA’s office met as recently as last month to
discuss the Memorandum of Understanding, but remain stuck on the issue of DA
investigators being in charge at the scene.
Once they resolve this, she said, the rest should “fall into place.”
But, she warned, that is a long way off.
“They’re not close to where we need them to get,” Gard said. “They don’t agree, basically. And
they’re fairly far from agreeing.”