Chief Bill Scott, left, DPA Director Paul Henderson, Police Commissioner Damali Taylor, DA Chesa Boudin and BASF Director Yolanda Jackson.

Every speaker at a Tuesday night panel on San Francisco police reform and accountability agreed: Police conduct, policy, accountability, discpline and oversight all need improvement. But the panel offered only glimmers on how those improvements could be realized, and instead focused on why the status quo is so difficult to overcome. 

The panel was hosted by the Bar Association of San Francisco and moderated by its executive director Yolanda Jackson. She directed her questions at four leaders in San Francisco’s policing world: San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, Department of Police Accountability Director Paul Henderson, Police Commission Vice President Damali Taylor, and District Attorney Chesa Boudin. 

Much of the panel discussion focused on existing processes: how discipline is imposed, why a police shooting requires five concurrent investigations, and how citizens can file complaints against police officers. That meant the evening was akin to a police procedural version of “How It’s Made” that offered few hints that the system needed any changing at all.  

Some moments, however, were illuminating. Jackson asked Boudin whether a California bill that changed the required standard for an officer to use deadly force from “reasonable” to “necessary” — AB 392 — would help Boudin file charges against officers more easily. 

By and large, it does not, said the DA.

In fact, he said, it was a missed opportunity. 

“In its original form, [AB 392] would have … made it easier for prosecutors to successfully prosecute use of force,” he said. “The final version was watered down after a lot of input from police unions across the state.” 

He did not go into much detail on how the new law was limiting. But even if it did help, Boudin noted that the new law is not “retroactive” and does not apply to past police shootings, like the Mario Woods case from 2015.  This means it would not be possible for him to use the AB 392 standard to bring charges against the officers involved in any of the highly charged police shootings that took place before the law went into effect in January 2020. 

The prior use-of-force standard, he said, “is a very, very challenging standard to overcome.” 

While Boudin noted that he’s taking a “hard look at some of those old cases,” and trying to decide whether he will come to a different conclusion as his predecessor, George Gascón, “we have not filed criminal charges in any of those cases,” he said. “We have not come to the conclusion that we can overcome that burden, that hurdle.” 

Boudin has several big charging decisions to make regarding police shootings, including the shooting of Sean Moore, a mentally ill man whom police shot on his own porch in January 2017. 

Moore recently died in prison from health complications related to the shooting. Boudin must also consider whether to file charges against Christopher Samayoa, the rookie officer who fatally shot the unarmed carjacking suspect Keita O’Neil in the head in December 2017. 

Boudin also echoed his predecessor in saying that he has an “ethical obligation” to not file charges he cannot prove. He said even filing charges against police officers in a controversial police shooting “would mean the end of someone’s career. It might mean … personal bankruptcy. It might mean weeks, months or even years incarcerated while they’re presumed innocent.” 

“So it’s not a decision that we can take lightly and just see what sticks,” he said. “We can’t take that approach.” 

The issue of open police disciplinary hearings also came up. The issue: Why are certain police disciplinary hearings still held behind closed doors? “I understand these discussions and decisions were open to the public at commission meetings,” Jackson said. “Why did that change and why can’t we get back to that system, to your point about transparency in this process?” 

This question was fielded by Taylor, the Police Commission vice president. She explained that a 2006 court case, Copley Press v. Superior Court, closed the disciplinary hearings to the public. While a new law requiring the disclosure of police misconduct records relating to sexual assault, dishonesty, and serious use of force — called SB 1421 — may open the disciplinary hearings in theory, “it’s not so clear cut,” Taylor said. 

Taylor explained that officers accused of sexual assault or dishonesty must complete the disciplinary process for details of the cases to become public, according to the city’s reading of the new law. And — while not bound to the same high standard as the other two categories — making serious use-of-force proceedings public would still create problems, she said.

“You can imagine some of these cases involve civilian witnesses, and they have personal privacy interests that need to be protected,” she said. 

Only in the last eight or so minutes of the 90-minute event did the panelists look toward the future. 

“If you could just snap your fingers and make the change, what would you do?” Jackson asked.

Henderson, the DPA director, said he wished police oversight received more funding. While he acknowledged the city’s resources are slim right now, he said that much of the DPA’s work — investigations, auditing, and policy analysis — “have costs associated with it.”   

Boudin offered three concrete changes. “One is we should have an absolute prohibition on ever hiring law enforcement personnel who already have a known serious discipline record,” he said. 

Two: Stronger measures should be in place to ensure officers police each other when they see misconduct.

Three: The city should relieve police of the burden of the mental health and homeless calls that they are not equipped to deal with. 

Next, Taylor said she would bring more Black police officers to the force. Right now, she said, only 9 percent of the SFPD is Black. 

“Our recruiting efforts really need to be focused on what our department looks like,” she said. “Who are the people who are going into these communities and do they really understand the lived experiences of the people in those communities?” 

She added that “bias screening” should also be required at recruitment “to root out … the old network of white officers who don’t necessarily understand those experiences.”

And Chief Scott — seemingly contrary to calls to “defund the police” and his vague support for the concept — said he would like more money for the police department. The money, he said, would be necessary to build a better police department. 

In terms of training, for example, the police department needs more police officers so other officers can focus on new training, he said. “So we have to really get away from trying to do everything on the cheap when it comes to public safety.”

We attend these forums even if you can’t. Support our work covering police reform.

Julian Mark

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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  1. Why did Mission Local refuse to cover the late August protest at Ronen’s leafy Bernal aerie when the progressive supervisor sicced her political operation against #DefundSFPDNow, powerful white lady policing young people of color fighting for their freedom. Ronen also complained that said peaceful young protesters of color traumatized her child.

    When this is what “progressives” bring to the table, we won’t see cops cut, rather will see more cops added to keep the unruly disrespectful masses in line.

    1. I don’t feel that’s a bad thing. I’m not sure where you live. But every night someone is getting shot. And they are not from the cops. And they are not white. So either something gets done about the gangs or nothing will happen that matters

  2. Funny. The police continue to be paid, while advocates – mostly volunteer – only have to be waited out, to go away.

    One reform would be to abolish the POA as an advocate – limiting their authority to matters affecting labor grievances. As is, their ability to ‘negotiate’ with their “bosses” is unlike anything in the private sector; and they more often than not control the outcome. The public and those served are left on the chopping block; while police wages and benefits increase and the pols who ‘negotiate’ get reelected or move up.

    Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?.

    1. Police Commissikner wants to exclude White People from being Police Officers, these type of racists comments have no place in the Police Commission.

  3. Clearly Police Commissioner Taylor is a racists. She does not want to hire any White People as Polcie Officers, because they did not live the Black experience.

    I am a Black, Native American and Pacific Islander Police Officer and I grew up in Middle Class White America, much like Obama, I never lived the Black Experience as written by liberals. Taylor believes the Black Experience is living in Crime Infested Neighborhood with Police on every corner. She feels that it is every Black Person’s responsibility to hate the Police, because they target Blacks. But in reality, in 51 Years, I have never been arrested. If I wasn’t a Cop, I would have never have been shot at.

    Just because people stay on the right side of the law, doesn’t mean they won’t be good Cops. I can walk.into any Neighborhood in San Francisco and get along with everyone, because I am real. I don’t try to cater to racial stereo types, like pretending I carry hot sauce in my pocket or using stereotypical slangs (because that would be racists and that is one thing I have never been). I don’t look at people as a particular race, the ones that do are racists. I look at people as people. Only racists bring up race everytime they talk, because they see people as being different, not the same.

    All People Matter.

  4. I like how my comment got deleted probably because I called out Police Commissioner Taylor as being a straight up racist, because she wants to exclude White People from being Police Officers. I guess the Police Commission is not really inclusive in their philosophy. They should be disbanded for violating the City Policy for being inclusive.

    I guess that doesn’t comply with Mission Local’s narrative.

    All People’s and their comments Matter.

    1. Sir — 

      Your comment wasn’t “deleted.” These are monitored in real-time, which means if someone doesn’t get to them, they don’t go up. You’re not going to believe this, but a red light on the wall doesn’t flash every time you write a comment.

      While we have your attention, here are the reasons we don’t print comments: Overt racism, ad-hominem name-calling, belligerence, lack of redeeming value and, the catch-all, printing such comments would detract form our site. See also: Crass stupidity.

      So there you go,

      JE

  5. Campers,

    Yeah, we “missed our opportunity.”

    We could have an office elected police chief on the ballot November 3rd..

    Has to be a charter amendment tho and not another chance till 2022.

    Go Niners!

    h.

    1. The tone of this article is one of the impossibility of change, a kind of “o.k., let’s work around the edges and try as best we can.” To a large extent, the paralysis of these people is due to the positions they hold and what their positions allow them to advocate. The elephant in the room is the Police Officer’s Association (POA) an unofficial “union” that needs to be dissolved of their “rights” of self protection against transparency, and a multiplicity of ways that permit them to frequently act in their own favor disregarding the community. What is needed is a large scale uprising of truly informed activists to do this as everyone else is afraid of them.

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