Photo by Lola M. Chavez

With the backdrop of a country in flames over the issue of police brutality and San Francisco’s own slow progress in implementing reform, the Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 to reject Mayor London Breed’s two moderate nominees for the Police Commission.

It was a dramatic conclusion to a seven-hour meeting in which mayoral appointees Nancy Tung and Geoffrey Gordon-Creed were grilled by the supervisors and then sat through hours of public comment in which they were occasionally lauded for their public service and keen minds — but mostly found themselves belittled, called mediocre or accused of being cozy with the police.  

It was clear from the onset that Supervisor Hillary Ronen, the chair of the committee, would not settle for adding moderates to the Police Commission. By the end of the meeting, her rage was clear.  

“I, like the people screaming in the streets, want to see real radical change,” said Ronen.  Added District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar: “I would support Supervisor Ronen’s motion to reject the nominations. We need police commissioners that can be bridge builders, but particularly that can have the trust and really deep relationships with the communities most affected by our criminal justice system.”

Only District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents the Marina, supported the mayor’s two nominees: “Are they the perfect people for the community who has been involved? Probably not,”  Stefani said, clearly exhausted and worn down by Ronen’s impassioned arguments. “But are they the people that can get this done? People who are passionate and people who are focused and people who have shown them to be people who care about the community? ” Clearly, Stefani and the mayor believed that to be the case.  

In the end, the supervisors voted 2-1 to remove the word “approving” from the “motion approving/rejecting” Tung and Gordon-Creed for four-year terms ending April 30, 2024. The Police Commission nominees next go before the full Board of Supervisors, where each will require six votes to be confirmed — as opposed to nominees on some other commissions, in which eight votes are required to reject a mayoral appointee.  

The path to confirmation would appear to be steep.

The meeting might have gone differently a month ago, but in a post-George Floyd world, the mayor’s moderate nominees proved inadequate. The vote will surely be viewed as a challenge to Mayor London Breed’s vision of the seven-member Police Commission, which votes on reform measures and considers police disciplinary cases. 

Ronen set the tone at the start of the meeting. “The bottom line is, our policing in the United States of America has to fundamentally change,” she said. “Our broken criminal justice system can no longer operate as is. We need a radical change.”

San Francisco’s reform efforts have been neither radical nor swift. Only 40 of 272 federal reform recommendations made in 2016 have been completed, Nancy Beninati, the state Deputy Attorney General supervising the reform effort, wrote in a March letter to Police Chief Bill Scott. 

The same letter referred to the “persistent disproportionate use of force against African American and Latino individuals.”

Ronen and other commentators raised questions about Tung and Gordon-Creed’s ability to effectively propel the reform process forward. 

DA candidate Nancy Tung arrives at her Nov. 2019 election-night gathering on Brannan Street. Photo by Lydia Chavez.

Tung, who came in third in the District Attorney’s race as the field’s “law and order” candidate, and Gordon-Creed, a private attorney who has served on the Ethics Commission and in the City Attorney’s office, proved far from radical in their responses to Ronen’s questions. 

Ronen asked both nominees to name the racial justice organizations that they had met with after being nominated to the Police Commission. The Rose Pak Democratic Club, both responded. That was it.  

Commentators were incredulous that the nominees had not met with the many groups working on police reform issues or engaged directly in the SFPD reform process that has been underway since 2016. 

It did not help that Tung had taken a $500 contribution from the conservative Police Officers  Association during her run for District Attorney. Nor did it help Gordon-Creed that he could not recall the details around key police shootings and legislation. 

“I’m sure he is a good lawyer and has great intentions,” said Sunset resident Patrick Kirby, referring to Gordon-Creed. “But he very clearly doesn’t have any experience necessary for this role. And, as he told us here today, he doesn’t know enough about two of the most brutal and well-known SFPD  killings in recent years to even form an opinion on them.”

Neither nominee thought that the officers responsible for the December 2015 shooting of Mario Woods or the officer-involved shooting of 29-year-old Jessica Williams, in May 2016, should have been prosecuted. District Attorney George Gascón reached a similar opinion — but Tung also rejected the suggestion that the officers should have been fired. Gordon-Creed could not recall enough of the details to have a fully realized opinion. 

While some of the more than 100 commentators called Tung’s views “layered” and “complex” or referred to Gordon-Creed as having a good analytical mind and being a good friend, the majority of commenters found them wanting. 

Alison Silking, who described herself as an Asian American resident of San Francisco, said, “ We need independent commissioners to hold police officers accountable who do not have long-standing cozy relationships with the police, who advocate for policies that will protect all vulnerable communities against the use of force, not drive it forward.”

At the end of the long meeting, Stefani defended her support for Tung and Gordon-Creed, arguing that she was taking the mayor’s advice and that Gascón had not filed charges against the officers involved in the Mario Woods case because the legal standard at the time had made it impossible. 

Now, she said, AB 392 has changed that standard. Earlier, officers were entitled to use force when it was “reasonable.” Now they can only use deadly force when doing so is “necessary in defense of human life.” 

But Ronen was having none of it. “When George Floyd was killed, you and both of our candidates had no problem saying that they should be prosecuted and fired and perhaps officers who were just standing around and watching should be, too,” she said. That was not the case with Mario Woods. 

She reminded Stefani how “Mario Woods was shot down by officers while he was up against a wall holding a kitchen knife while the entire thing was being recorded, when no one with common sense could possibly believe after watching that video that six officers couldn’t take down one man with a kitchen knife and instead had to shoot him dozens and dozens of times.” 

She understood Tung saying she would not have prosecuted because of the legal standard, but she failed to understand why Tung would not have fired the officers or why Gordon-Creed “did not have an opinion.” 

“That is not good enough for me,” Ronen said. “Enough is enough. It is time to stop killing black and brown people.”

We sit through seven-hour meetings so that you don’t have to. If you haven’t yet, please support local media.

 

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor at Berkeley’s J-school until 2019. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. The Tribune...

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27 Comments

  1. Tinkering with appointments to the Police Commission is never going to be enough. We need the Board of Supes to step up and pass some real legislation and put charter amendments on the ballot. Otherwise the POA and the “city family” will continue with business as usual. When San Francisco can’t even implement the old recommendations from the Obama-era Justice Department on how to restructure and reform the police department, you know you have systemic, structurals problem that go well beyond specific nominees to a do-little commission.

  2. Every lawsuit due to police misconduct the results in a monetary judgment should. be paid by the police union that the officer belongs to. The local jurisdiction would not be liable.?

  3. If only Ronen could bring that passion to meeting her campaign promise of 5,000 new affordable homes in the Mission. And I’m sure the Tung voters whose ranked choices won Boudin his election will be happy with this outcome.

  4. This will only mean more crime; watch revenues to city coffers drop. It would be good to have people from across the spectrum on the commission, not just the same mindset. That doesn’t auger well for good solutions.

    1. Well said, San Francisco progressives summed up nicely. The truth is that they don’t care about the average city resident and the cliff they are pushing us off of, because once they are done polishing up their progressive credentials, they disappear. Anybody seem Jane Kim or Chris Daly around lately? Didn’t think so

    2. One place the city could find space in the budget to offset those revenues you’re worried about (coming from what, exactly?) is from defunding the police.

  5. So the mayor, who two days ago likened protestors outside her home to the KKK nominated a candidate supported by the openly racist SF POA. and a candidate who was by his own admission unfamiliar with any recent controversial police actions, and people are surprised they got rejected?

    Also, why are the Marina and the Sunset supervisors getting such an outweighed say in this, when it arguably affects their communities the least?

  6. Why does this article focus on the non-prosecution of police in one instance yet never mention that Nancy Tung is one of the only people in San Francisco with experience successfully prosecuting cops and was chased out of the SFDA’s office for advocating to drop charges in almost 1,000 cases due to tainted evidence (against her boss Kamala Harris’s desires)?

    The progressive faction of the board happily accepts endorsements from the cops and sleeps with rotten cops while fighting to keep disciplinary records private (Fewer). There is no rational basis for this vote – it’s purely ideology. And not even good one, at that.

  7. Does Ronen have a list of folks she prefers to be on the commission? It seems like a logical follow up question.

    If not, can we press her to come up with a list?

    Doesn’t do much good to just complain without having an alternative solution.

    1. Yes, she did address that question. I left it out for space reasons, but I have gone back to the transcript and here is what Ronen said at the end of the meeting: “What I think the public is begging us to do right now is to say don’t put lawyers who haven’t been leaders in this reform movement, who haven’t studied the issue, but experts who have written about it, represented our community….. this (the selection of police commissioners) is one of the little tiny ways that I, as a local legislator, legislator, have an ability to enact change that people are begging me to enact on the street. And I think we have to do something different than we normally do. If my colleagues agree with me, I am very much hoping that the mayor will choose one of the thousands of leaders in the police accountability and police reform movement in this city, because we have thousands of them that we have had many in the Asian-American community. We heard from so many of them today on the phone so she could choose any of those people that have that track record, that history of standing up and being in Sacramento fighting… That’s the type of leadership we need at this moment in history at this time. “

      1. “I am very much hoping that the mayor will choose one of the thousands of leaders in the police accountability and police reform movement in this city“

        That’s not exactly submitting a list of potential candidates. It’s not even close.

  8. The progressives are well on their way in their long stated goals to decriminalize and depolice San Francisco. The SFPD essentially acts like the fire department, the cops respond to calls now from their stations just like the firefighters do. Proactive policing gone, long term investigations, over, high profile patrolling, finished. Listen to the police district radio channels on SF Scan some night. 911 calls for police about the homeless, mentally ill, drug dealers, property crimes, suspicious people, any quality of life crimes……….crickets. If some brave cop answers up for one of these calls or more like is forced to take one from a sergeant, it’s a slow roll in the hopes it will be long gone before the officers arrive. In police lingo it’s “abated prior to arrival”
    Let’s review:
    Property crimes: highest in the nation
    Homeless: does this even warrant a comment?
    Drug dealing, drug use: please
    Mentally ill: invisible to the cops, paramedics, fire department and any city leader
    proactive policing: in the Bayview, Mission, Tenderloin? forget it. nobody wants to be the next cell phone star, get themselves jammed up, arrested, and be the next cop to spark nation wide riots.
    The useless police chief will trot out the next months crime stats announcing drops in this or that, a charade of meaningless numbers nobody believes because they actually live here, and can look out their windows and see for themselves.
    A progressive DA that just this week, in the middle of riots and unrest, announced that his DA’s in a leaked email, that prosecutors are directed focus on the police, not rioters and looters, for crimes to be charged.
    This is what the BOS and the activists want. They don’t even pretend to hide this. This is their goal, this is what they want. They don’t care about this city, the people who live here, the people that work here, the people who raise their families here, the people that pay their taxes here. We are all racists, sexists, capitalists, oppressors, fascists, supremacists, and we don’t matter.

    1. Police need to be accountable to the public. There are no other professions where we allow people to murder without consequences. How can you say we don’t care about the city when we are working to hold those who abuse their power in their communities accountable?

      Police should not be a military force in a city – they should be a force for social good which uplift their community rather than terrify it. They should be social workers, defenders, and protectors of our rights, not executioners. Do you disagree with this?

      1. I do on many levels. Murder without consequence? The law permits police to use force, even deadly force. Juries and courts understand this even if many like you do not. The police are sworn to uphold the law and arrest those who break it. Some who break the law refuse to be arrested and brought before a jury of their peers for breaking the law. To believe that people who don’t want to be arrested can always be arrested without force, even deadly force, is a fantasy unique to liberal people like you. People like you are lost in this fantasy world where the police should be social workers, instead of what police really are, the strong arm of the law they are sworn to enforce. A world where violence, firearms, extremists of every stripe, gangs, and people who have no regard for laws, the social compact, or other people’s lives and property, don’t magically exist. Your views are exactly what has gone so terribly wrong in this city in the last 20 years. You, and people like you have ushered in this surreal alternative universe where the police are the enemy instead of the criminals who prey on all of us. Mind boggling.

        1. Multiple usage of the phrase “people like you” renders just about everything you say totally meaningless.

          1. why meaningless? It made perfect sense to me. I understood “people like you” as those who have for years pushed this city’s legal and political organs to go soft on serious crime. Now here we are in 2020: property crime is de facto not a crime; violent thugs are running amok and not being apprehended (see endless list of shootings/murder throughout the city that go unresolved); and our police forces seem demoralized (I’m assume this is pre Floyd too). Meanwhile, the rest of us, aka not the people like you, suffer in silence.

  9. I’m new here but it seems like there could be good intentions behind this. Does anyone have recommendations on what SF residents can do to educate themselves on our current police reform efforts and what we can do to support more progress?

  10. Campers,

    Hey, I’m hated by all but definitely a reformer.

    I propose my nomination for office of Police Commissioner.

    Go Giants!

    h.

  11. You know, with all this cronyism, the back-room deals, and banal patronage of shady union leaders, it really feels like the old-school corruption of days long gone. You almost expect to turn to the sports page and read about Willie Mays’ latest home run.

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