Private negotiations between city representatives and the police union over new police reforms could be subject to public scrutiny under proposed Board of Supervisors legislation announced on Tuesday.
Advocates and observers of police reform have long criticized private negotiations over the specifics of new policies — so-called “meet-and-confer” sessions — that take place between the San Francisco Police Officers Association and the Department of Human Resources. While the sessions are meant to give the union a chance to bargain over the effects a new policy may have on working conditions, they’re often used to delay or water down reforms, critics argue.
Reform advocates made this clear as they pressured the Board of Supervisors earlier this month to condition police pay raises on including transparency measures in the contract, along with other regulations to meet-and-confer sessions. But those attempts failed; on Tuesday, the board voted 9-2 to approve the raises. Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Dean Preston dissented.
“The pace of reform in San Francisco is far too slow,” Ronen, who introduced the legislation, said at a press conference Tuesday. “And the Department of Human Resources is simply not doing its job and using its power to advance reforms.”
The legislation, which Ronen said she would introduce in the coming weeks, would require the bargaining sessions to be held in public. Just like any other public meeting, members of the public would be notified in advance of the meeting, and an agenda with any corresponding documents would be made available. Additionally, correspondences between the city and the union would be systematically made public.
For David Rizk, a member of the San Francisco Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Task Force, who helped Ronen draft the legislation, the goal is transparency.
“I hope that it permanently changes the dynamic that has permitted SFPOA to have more influence than it’s legally entitled to behind closed doors on reform matters in San Francisco,” he told Mission Local on Tuesday.
Right now, he said, the process cuts out groups that have an interest in influencing police reform, such as the community members, policing experts, city departments like the District Attorney’s and the Public Defender’s office — and even police officers who do not always agree with the union.
If implemented, the law would give these groups “visibility in the process,” Rizk said.
It would also help to deter the union from stalling on reforms. In October, it came to light that the union had stalled the implementation of a policy aimed at police shooting investigations for two-and-a-half years without making substantial changes. If the legislation passes, community members could observe this process and understand what changes are being made — or if any changes are being made at all.
Ronen said Tuesday that the process is so opaque that she and other city officials are unaware that some policies are being bargained over. “Oftentimes I’m quite surprised with what DHR deems necessary to discuss in the meet-and-confer process,” she said.
This legislative attempt comes after advocates tried and failed to pressure the supes to force a renegotiation of the union’s contract, which cancels a 3-percent raise for police officers in 2021, but guarantees a 6-percent raise over the following two years. They wanted those raises to be tied to limits on the meet-and-confer process, among other reforms.
The contract passed on Tuesday evening without reform stipulations. Ronen did not support it, and called the inevitable conclusion “disturbing” earlier in the day. “While I’m not able to support the contract today — and I’m excited to move this legislation forward — supervisors have different tactical judgments about” how to make changes, she said.
The legislation is being co-sponsored by Matt Haney, Shamann Walton, Dean Preston, Gordon Mar, and Sandra Lee Fewer.
By the time the legislation is up for a vote in January, Fewer will be replaced by Connie Chan, who won the District 1 seat in this month’s election. If Chan supports the legislation, Ronen will have enough to pass the ordinance — though not enough to be safe from a mayoral veto. She will need two more supervisors to make that happen.
Mawuli Tugbenyoh, chief of policy at the Department of Human Resources, declined to comment on the legislation specifically, as it has not been “disclosed” to his department.
“The meet and confer process is governed by” state law, he said in an email. “The Department of Human Resources is in support of additional transparency measures being added to the meet confer process that meet the requirements under state law.”
The San Francisco Police Officers Association has not returned a request for comment.