The slogan of the day was, “No justice, no deal.”
That’s what activists chanted outside the main chamber of City Hall on Wednesday in preparation for a Board of Supervisors hearing aimed at ongoing contract negotiations between the city and the San Francisco Police Officers Association, or POA.
Much of the hearing revolved around the minutiae of the contract — when it would be complete, the needs of the police department, and the city’s policing budget. But for community members, the upcoming negotiations were inseparable from reform – including de-escalation instead of officer-involved shootings, accountability and ongoing questions about police bias and conduct.
“He (my son) is a person that the police killed and maimed and didn’t realize how that was going to leave us,” said Jose Delgado, the father of Jesus Adolfo Delgado, a 19-year-old Mission resident and armed robbery suspect who police shot at 99 times and killed earlier this month after he fired on them from the trunk of a sedan.
“My question is: where is the training on how to deal with people and how to de-escalate?” Delgado asked said through a translator.
The shooting of Delgado was the latest case in which reform advocates wondered if police couldn’t have done more to de-escalate the situation. In other officer-involved shootings, no guns were involved, no shots were fired by the victims and no charges have ever been filed against the officers.
District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen called this week’s hearing because the Mayor’s Office has not shared any information about its negotiations on the so-called “memorandum of understanding,” or MOU, with the police union, she said. The board will eventually have to approve the contract.
Cohen said she was also concerned about Mayor Mark Farrell’s connections to the union: namely, a senior advisor of his, Nate Ballard, was, until recently, a consultant to the POA. (Ballard and Farrell deny there is a conflict of interest.)
Moreover, she was troubled by Farrell’s endorsement of the union’s ballot measure to arm officers with Tasers that would, in effect, prevent the Police Commission and SFPD Chief Bill Scott from revising the policy as Tasers are rolled out.
“This is an important conversation that we need to have publicly to ensure that there is transparency and sunshine on an issue that has an impact on people’s everyday lives — particularly people of color that are adversely affected by law enforcement,” Cohen said.
The stakes are high. This is the first time the contract is being negotiated in full since 2007. It is being negotiated as the department is attempting to implement 272 reforms recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice. And negotiations on the city’s behalf are being facilitated by a caretaker mayor who will depart shortly after the June 5 special election.
The new contract could apply for the next 10 years.
Furthermore, some policy experts believe that the POA has been able to stifle the reforms, slowing down or injecting their will into new policies through labor law processes such as “meet-and-confers” and litigation.
“We think that at times they claim rights to negotiate over policies that aren’t within” the bucket of wages and working conditions, said Anand Subramanian, a senior director at the research institute PolicyLink and once the executive director of the Blue Ribbon Panel, which launched a deep review of bias in the SFPD.
“Even when they have a legal right to negotiate over policy, there’s no balancing task between public safety and the working conditions of the police officers,” he continued, noting as an example department’s body camera policy.
Officers are now able to view their body-camera footage before making an official statement about an incident, such as a police shooting.
Moreover, the union has been able to stymie negotiations that would allow the District Attorney’s investigators to take the lead on officer-involved shootings.
Representatives from the POA did not attend the meeting. Rather, in a letter addressed to one of Cohen’s aids, the POA’s negotiator, Gregg McClean Adam, called the notion that the union is impeding reforms “codswallop.”
“Claims to the contrary are the stuff of fiction,” the letter said.
John Crew, a retired ACLU lawyer and police policy expert, said that claim is empty — unless the union adds a clause in the new contract that would restrict its ability to meet-and-confer over any policy born out of the DOJ recommendations.
“Put it in writing,” he said.
Contract and “potential conflicts”
A draft of the contract will be submitted Board of Supervisors May 15 at the earliest, said Carol Isen, employee relations director with the city’s Department of Human Resources. If they have not reached a deal by then, a panel will be called in to mediate.
Isen explained that the contract has not been fully renegotiated since 2007, although it has been amended five times “mostly for economics,” to add or subtract money from the contract. Her department and the POA have been meeting since October, she said.
Isen repeatedly declined to answer a question by Kim about the total value of the MOU’s package.
But Severin Campbell from the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office said that the city spends some $500 million every year on SFPD salaries and around $300 million on those of uniformed officers.
SFPD has 2,147 sworn officers on the payroll with 1,848 on full duty, according to SFPD Chief Bill Scott.
Isen also explained that her department “takes direction” from the Mayor, an issue raised by Cohen, Board President London Breed, and activists because as a senior advisor to Farrell, Nate Ballard, was very recently a consultant to the POA.
“Is it a conflict of interest for Nate Ballard to be an advisor to the mayor when he was just recently registered as a lobbyist for the POA?” Cohen asked John Givner, an assistant city attorney.
Givner deflected, saying that any conflicts would be discussed.
Breed said that she understood that Ballard had only taken a “leave” from the POA, which means that he has not fully severed official ties. “So I think there is a real conflict here, especially with what’s happening around negotiations with this contract, and it gives me a lot of pause,” she said.