SFPOA office, SFPD union
Photo by Charlotte Silver

The San Francisco Police Officers Association today dropped its March 1 lawsuit to block the SFPD from disclosing certain misconduct records made available to the public through a law that took effect at the beginning of the year.

Starting Jan. 1, 2019, Senate Bill 1421 made available past or future records relating to sustained findings of dishonesty or sexual misconduct by an officer, as well as records of serious or deadly use of force.

Like many unions statewide, the SFPOA filed a petition to challenge the “retroactivity” of the law, triggering a court order that the SFPD hold off on releasing the records.  

“After consultation with our legal counsel, the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association has dismissed its Superior Court action regarding the retroactive implementation of SB 1421,” read a statement from the union’s executive board. “As we have stated previously, we believe all police agencies should fully comply with the eligible requests for records.”

David Stevenson, the SFPD’s director of strategic communications, told Mission Local last week that the department “will begin releasing records once the court order has been lifted.” With today’s actions, that could be imminent.

Stevenson added, however, that releasing the records will take time, and pointed to a backlog of requests. “The research, processing and final review of the requests for records is prioritized based on the order in which the requests were/are received,” he said. “There is a backlog because a number of these requests are extremely voluminous.”

A public records request by Mission Local revealed that dozens of wide-ranging requests pursuant to the law have been filed in just the three months since it took effect.

“That’s great,” said state Sen. Nancy Skinner, who wrote the law, of the POA backing off its suit. It was seemingly the first time she heard the news. “Every case where a hearing was held, the presiding judge has upheld 1421,” Skinner continued, chalking up the POA’s move as a realistic one.

“Our communities have a clear interest in reviewing records related to sustained findings of misconduct when they involve things like filing false reports or sexual assault on a member of the public,” added John Coté, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office. “The public also deserves transparency in situations where an officer shoots at a person. That was the legislature’s intent in approving SB 1421.”

Along with the flurry of lawsuits intending to block SB 1421, some jurisdictions — like Fremont —  took the more proactive approach of destroying records that would have been eligible for release under the law.

The SFPOA indicated that it would await court rulings in multiple ongoing cases, “and respect that decision.”

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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