The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department will soon be under stricter civilian oversight by the Department of Police Accountability — but that’s not all. Voters in November will also decide whether to create an entirely new civilian oversight body for the Sheriff’s Department. 

Under a soon-to-be finalized agreement with the Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Police Accountability will broaden its existing authority to investigate misconduct by sheriff’s deputies, taking complaints directly from inmates at San Francisco jails as well as civilians. It would investigate use of force that causes “actual injury,” intentional use of a weapon, sexual misconduct, as well as instances when there is a pattern and practice of retaliation, harassment or bias. 

Primarily formed to investigate complaints against the San Francisco Police Department, the DPA assumed the role of investigating sheriff misconduct last spring at the request of then-Sheriff Vicki Hennessy. At that point, the Sheriff’s Department had been racked with allegations of inmate abuse, including deputy-facilitated “fight clubs” and numerous beatings. 

But the DPA’s investigatory role was limited only to cases referred by the Sheriff’s internal affairs department, not direct complaints from the jail population and the general public.  

“This new agreement will ensure that all serious law enforcement misconduct … is investigated and reviewed by an independent, outside agency,” wrote Department of Police Accountability executive director Paul Henderson in an Aug. 21 draft of the final agreement letter addressed to Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors. 

The changes have yet to take effect, pending the outcome of a “meet and confer ” session with San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the union that represents roughly 750 deputies. Ken Lomba, the president of the union, said he would like to see the process finished in a “week or two.” 

Soon, however, an even more particularized oversight apparatus could replace the Department of Police Accountability — and it’s unclear whether the pending agreement will undercut the purpose of the forthcoming ballot measure. 

In November, San Francisco voters will decide on Proposition D, which will determine whether the city should establish a seven-member “Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board” and an “Office of the Inspector General” to investigate misconduct and make disciplinary recommendations. The board would also make policy recommendations and advise Sheriff’s Department operations. The measure, authored by Supervisor Shamann Walton and placed on the ballot by a unanimous Board of Supervisors vote, would cost an estimated $3 million a year.   

The Sheriff’s Department has shown zero support for Proposition D. In an Aug. 7 newsletter, Sheriff Paul Miyamoto called the proposed oversight board “wasteful bureaucracy” and said it would be a burden on the resources of his department.   

In his letter, Henderson suggests that, under the new agreement, the DPA will perform many of the same functions as the proposed oversight panel and inspector general’s office. The DPA will have the same access to evidence, have a similar power to perform internal audits and make policy recommendations, and would provide regular reports. It would also make disciplinary recommendations to Miyamoto — though it would not be able to impose discipline. 

The proposed oversight board would also lack the power to impose discipline, as the Police Commission does.

If Proposition D passes, there would be a transition period and the DPA could continue investigating misconduct until the new commission is set up and an inspector general is selected.

The latter could take “at least a year,” said Sarah Hawkins, the DPA’s Chief of Staff. If the measure does not pass, the DPA would continue its work with the Sheriff’s Department indefinitely. 

The DPA and the Sheriff’s Department “hope this agreement will be a workable transition to the proposed charter amendment, or alternatively, a cost-effective way to accomplish the same important goals of additional oversight, transparency, and accountability,” Henderson wrote. 

Tracy Gallardo, an aide to Walton, only learned of the DPA’s expanded oversight agreement on Monday. She said Walton’s ballot measure appears to have spurred the Sheriff’s Department and DPA to take action. The new agreement “is great and a move in the right direction,” she said. “And it should not have taken a [ballot measure] to get this to happen.” 

Gallardo argued that the ballot measure is still necessary, providing more focused oversight from a board of appointed civilians and investigators — “people who are passionate and [who] care” — who would not be overloaded with complaints regarding multiple law enforcement entities.  

“This would be a separate entity that would focus on sheriff oversight,” Gallardo said, adding that the “DPA has a lot of work to do” with the SFPD alone. “They would have to meet their police obligations before they meet the sheriff obligations.” 

What’s more, Gallardo said, the entire state is moving in the direction of greater oversight over county sheriff’s departments via oversight boards. A bill that would authorize their formation in every state county — AB 1185 — is now awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.   

Lomba, the union president, did not want to comment on which outcome the union prefers. But he did say that union was not opposed to what figures to be inevitable oversight. “We definitely understand the purpose for it,” he said. “We are definitely about increasing our professionalism as every day goes by.”