After taking a week to deliberate, the Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee today recommended Jesús Gabriel Yáñez as the newest addition to the Police Commission. He will fill Petra DeJesus’ vacant seat, which sat empty for most of 2021.
A longtime advocate for juvenile justice reform, Yáñez is currently working as a consultant with the Mission community organizations on the “Vision Zero: LatinX Safety Plan,” with the goal to reduce youth violence in the neighborhood.
“I’m being ambitious just because that’s the way I get down,” Yáñez told Mission Local today, referring to the safety plan. He seems to have a similarly ambitious approach to the Police Commission.
Yáñez hopes to bring “a little change of pace” to the Police Commission, “because the status quo of having attorneys there work on the tail end of things to maybe discipline some officers, years after an incident, is working at the wrong end of the spectrum.”
Yáñez wants to “change the climate” of policing from the front end, helping police integrate better in the communities they serve, using trauma-informed, holistic approaches that he is well-versed in.
The Police Commission, which is intended to provide oversight of the Police Department in helping to set policy and hear misconduct cases, has an opportunity to bring about reform to the SFPD, Yáñez said last week during his hearing alongside other candidates before the Rules Committee.
He noted that some progress is being made on the 272 reform recommendations from the Department of Justice on “embarrassing” racial disparities in San Francisco policing.
“But I also know that we need to be very, very steady and proactive,” Yáñez told the Rules Committee. “And we need to make sure that there is true communication and accountability — quantifiable and qualitative information that will inform the direction that we’re going to take this department.”
While he sets the bar high, Yáñez referred to some of his work as Sisyphean, understanding that commissioners only have so much influence over the day-to-day activities of the police department, and compromises are necessary.
“I’m not tied to any one solution,” Yáñez said, calling himself apolitical in an interview today, and a “consensus builder by nature.”
His earlier work has been in transforming systems, most recently in reevaluating juvenile justice in San Francisco. When he started out, Yáñez said, there were close to 200 youths in detention at any given time, and now only a small handful remain as the city approaches its goal to abolish youth prisons. Today, the adult criminal justice system is beginning to implement the same strategies Yáñez and his colleagues used in reforming youth justice and reducing incarceration levels.
Yáñez formerly led the Youth Services Department at Instituto Familiar de la Raza, which provides social services to the Latino community, and he has years of experience advocating for juveniles and working on violence prevention programs in the Mission and across the city.
Yáñez was the favored choice of the Mission District’s Latinx community, with commenters from various local organizations expressing their support for the “trusted” and “grassroots” candidate during last week’s hearing. District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen had also written a letter to the committee highlighting Yáñez’s community experiences and connections that qualified him for the position.
Supervisor Connie Chan, who had supported Yáñez as her first choice last week, said she saw more support come in for him since last week’s meeting, and made a motion to recommend Yáñez to the full Board of Supervisors tomorrow.
Yáñez was up against federal public defender David Rizk, who was also commended by the committee as a qualified applicant and was favored by police reform advocates and former commissioner Petra DeJesus.
After a long “dearth of applicants,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin noted that the committee now had “an embarrassment of riches” to choose from, referring primarily to Rizk and Yáñez. Two of the three other contenders for the seat withdrew their interest prior to today’s vote.
Peskin hoped Rizk would eventually fill another seat on the Police Commission come April, 2022, when commissioners John Hamasaki, Larry Yee, and Max Carter-Oberstone’s terms expire.
Yáñez’s recommendation will now be presented to the full Board of Supervisors for approval on Dec. 14, and if approved, he will begin serving the remainder of a four-year term, ending in April, 2025.