Board-appointed police commissioners decry mayoral appointees as “agents of the mayor,” after purported deal evaporates
The three Board of Supervisors-appointed police commissioners walked out of Wednesday night’s Police Commission meeting in protest of the election of commissioners Bob Hirsch as commission president and Damali Taylor as vice president — both of whom are mayoral appointees.
The board-nominated commissioners went so far as to publicly accuse their colleagues of being pawns of the mayor — and alleged that a deal with the mayor’s office, which would have installed a supervisors-appointed nominee as Police Commission vice president, was abandoned at the last minute.
“What everybody is saying … is that the four mayorals got marching orders and are not independent commissioners, but merely agents of the mayor,” said Commissioner John Hamaski, noting that he no problems with the mayor. “But at some point, as commissioners, we have to step out from behind the apron and do our jobs.”
It was an amazing display of discord — and distrust — among the two breeds of police commissioners at a time when the oversight body is tasked with fine-tuning and approving hundreds of reform recommendations by the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as overseeing the implementation of a radical statewide law that opens certain police-misconduct records to the public. It was the most rancorous display at the Police Commission since the body, voting along mayoral- and board-appointed lines, narrowly approved Tasers in 2017.
In the words of one public commenter shortly following Wednesday night’s walkout: “That was a bloodbath.”
At issue was board-appointed commissioners’ lament that the nominations for president and vice president — largely honorary positions — had been decided by the mayor’s office long before Wednesday evening’s meeting.
Indeed, Supervisor Aaron Peskin told Mission Local that, weeks ago, he helped to broker a deal with the mayor’s office that the president of the Police Commission would be a mayoral appointee and the vice president a board appointee.
“What I think we all want from the police department and its governing apparatus is to instill trust in each, every, and all communities,” Peskin said, explaining that “dual representation chairs” would help create that trust.
An email sent to the mayor’s office regarding this matter very late Wednesday was not returned as of press time; this story will be updated if and when a response is provided.
It was Peskin’s belief — and the understanding of the board-appointed commissioners — that this reputed deal was still in play. Yet, when nominations came up on the agenda tonight, Commissioner Thomas Mazzucco (a mayoral appointee) tapped Hirsch and Taylor, sparking immediate outcry from commissioners DeJesus and John Hamasaki, who both said they understood the arrangement to be different hours before the meeting.
First, DeJesus and Mazzucco quibbled over whether Mazzucco had the right to make the nominations. “You can’t make the nomination,” she said. “It’s improper.” Mazzucco argued that he could. (He eventually did, without objections from the deputy city attorney present.)
Then Hamasaki jumped in and suggested the mayoral appointees were “agents of the mayor.”
Hirsch quickly shot back. “I’m stumped at comments that were made. I just heard we’re agents of the mayor,” he said. “Nobody has told me how to vote on this issue — you’ve got to be kidding me.”
Commissioner Cindy Elias, who was in line to be the vice president under the “dual representation” deal, agreed with her fellow board appointees that it “feels that the mayoral candidates have decided and been told how to vote.”
“That’s FOX News!” Hirsch said. “It’s not the case.”
Hirsch has taken pains to emphasize that he is his own man. But he undeniably has a close relationship with Mayor London Breed, whom he years ago hired as a babysitter. In 2017, Breed championed Hirsch’s appointment as a Police Commissioner.
Underlying the crossfire was the notion that mayoral appointees are perceived as more deferential to the Police Department, its union, and the mayor, while board appointees are viewed as more independent and sympathetic to the concerns of the disenfranchised. Indeed, Hamasaki, Elias and DeJesus all have backgrounds as public defenders. Meanwhile, mayoral appointees Mazzucco and Taylor are former federal prosecutors.
But Hirsch was quick to point out that his background is in labor and arbitration, not criminal prosecution. What’s more, Breed appointee Dion-Jay Brookter works with a community and youth nonprofit.
In the end, the commission did not entertain repeated suggestions from DeJesus that it at least discuss so-called dual representation, and instead voted for Hirsch and Taylor, leveraging their majority. “Personal attacks very offensive to me. You’ve categorized people, profiled people, and put people in little boxes,” Mazzucco said before motioning to vote. “It’s bothersome — tonight we seem to be divided.”
Following the vote, Mazzucco handed the gavel to Hirsch. “The only reason I voted yes,” Hirsch said, “is because I feel you unfairly characterized the rest of us.”
And after Elias, Hamasaki, and DeJesus had left the room — and they did not return — Hirsch looked at his three remaining colleagues. “Okay,” he said, “we still have a quorum.”