John Hamasaki at the March 9, 2022 Police Commission meeting.

Two days after blasting the police department and City Hall for their unwillingness to change SFPD’s “culture of corruption and brutality,” outgoing police commissioner John Hamasaki questioned the oversight board’s commitment to carrying out reforms.

Changing the police department’s culture requires “a strong chief and a strong commission,” Hamasaki told Mission Local in an interview Wednesday. “I’m not sure where we are on that right now.”

In a blistering Twitter thread Hamasaki, a criminal defense lawyer, announced on Monday that he would not seek a second term on the police commission, saying that he had “lost any hope I had for SFPD.”

The last straw for Hamasaki came last month, when Police Chief William Scott tried to unilaterally end an agreement that allowed the District Attorney’s Office to investigate incidents involving police use of force.

Hamasaki described Scott’s effort, which he believed was made under pressure from the police union, as “an attack on the justice system.” 

Making matters worse, Hamasaki said, his fellow commissioners refused to join him in his push to compel the chief to abide by the agreement temporarily.

“This is where we need to be able to assert ourselves,” Hamasaki said in Wednesday’s interview, noting that the commission’s oversight role was also on the line. “What are we gonna do when it’s a harder call?” 

On Twitter, Hamasaki said Monday that while the commission has done some good work, “We have failed at changing the culture.”

Hamasaki’s announcement came days after Malia Cohen, who shut down a heated argument about the use-of-force agreement during a February commission meeting, announced her resignation from the oversight board. Cohen, a former San Francisco supervisor, is running for state controller.

At last week’s commission meeting, she said the city “deserves some credit” for making progress towards police reform.

“A  journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” she said, referencing a Chinese proverb.

Hamasaki had a far less optimistic view when speaking with Mission Local. He described trying to change the department’s culture as a “Sisyphean” task. 

Before joining the commission, Haamasaki said he was told: “You can have the best rules, policies, guidelines on the books, but if you can’t change the culture, it doesn’t mean that much.”

Hamasaki unleashed his Twitter thread Monday afternoon, shortly after a jury acquitted SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel for beating an unarmed black man in 2019 with a baton.

In that thread, Hamasaki referenced the verdict while raging against Chief Scott’s attempt to undo the use-of-force agreement.

“Instead of allowing justice and accountability, SFPD, once again, determined that they were above the law,” Hamasaki tweeted. “Years of reform efforts, oversight by the US DOJ and Cal DOJ, out the window. To protect the right of SFPD officers to beat the shit out of Black people. Reform has failed.”

An outspoken critic of the police department, Hamasaki told Mission Local that Scott’s efforts to end the use-of-force agreement showed that the police union “had ultimately prevailed,” adding that it was no easy task to take on the powerful group. The State Attorney General’s Office brokered a last-minute deal between the DA’s Office and the police department at the end of February, extending the agreement through May 20.

Mayor London Breed must replace Cohen within 60 days. The Board of Supervisors, which is responsible for replacing Hamasaki, has no such deadline.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who sits on the board’s Rules Committee that will select Hamasaki’s replacement, called the battle over the use-of-force agreement “unfortunate” and said it “was frustrating for everybody.”

Peskin said he is looking for “mature commissioners …This is not the time for bomb-throwing or tweeting.” The last board-appointed seat remained vacant for nearly a year, but Peskin doesn’t anticipate it taking as long to fill Hamasaki’s seat.

Mason Lee, a spokesperson for Mayor London Breed, said the mayor “is talking to community members and leaders” about possible replacements for Cohen, “to make sure that her nominee has strong community ties and understands the needs of our diverse communities.” 

Cohen was appointed after the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee rejected two earlier Breed appointments.

With Hamasaki and Cohen’s departures, the police commission will be composed of mostly new faces. Of the remaining five commissioners, only Vice President Cindy Elias held her position prior to 2021.

Though being a commissioner can range from being a part-time to a full-time job, commissioners receive $100 monthly stipends for their service on the civilian oversight board. 

“Having that institutional knowledge loss is hard, but I’m for term limits,” Hamasaki said. “New blood is good, fresh ideas are good.” But for the little progress accomplished, he said that serving on the commission is a “ridiculous, inordinate amount of work.”

The police commission

$
$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Follow Us

REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

Join the Conversation

12 Comments

  1. Is this the same John Hamasaki, police commissioner / defense attorney, who tweeted in defense of letting teens keep their illegal guns?

    He was appointed right?

    He’s leaving at the end of his term? What were the actual chances he would be reappointed?

    Cause if it was zero, it takes the wind out of his self-righteous refusal to seek a second-term

  2. Nothing is going to change at the SFPD until the continuing criminal enterprise that is the SFPOA is broken.

    The political class is okay with keeping their thugs in their back pockets because armed cops are their ultimate line of defense against the constituents they’ve been fleecing for decades.

  3. Head of the POA Boston Child molester went on for years unchecked.
    Code of Silence
    Police reform is a joke!

  4. And Marty H got 10 day suspended for lying on a police report, but elected head of the POA now that’s reform. LOL
    .

  5. And of course Chicago PD want a confession ‘ball pressure to black males” millions in paid outs no cop jailed
    Now that’s police reform. LOL

  6. The crime lab I was involved at the police commission about Debbie yep Kevin Cashman was told about Maddens drug use.
    Kept it quiet he got demoted for it But Greg got the chiefs job and Cashman got his stars back. ITS THE GOOD OLD BOYS

  7. Aah police reform. Or any changes. Let me borrow a saying from football: “It’s not about the Xs and Os, it’s about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s”. Same here. You can roll all the commissions and civil grand juries and legislation and federal overseers you want, year in year out. So long the type of people you find in the force don’t change, you’ll keep getting the same results. Of course San Francisco (and the Bay Area in general) is full of armchair reformer twats who think it is their call to realize their ambitions through “reform”, which only creates an environment where organizations like the POA can strive.

  8. Campers,

    Congrats to Commissioner Hamasaki.

    As Rosie Ruiz said in, ‘White men can’t jump’:

    “Sometimes when you win you lose …

    and, sometimes when you lose you win.”

    You’re a winner, counsel.

    I’d say get creative.

    Couple Charter Amendments for the voters.

    First, elect our Police Chief and put them beyond Mayor and POA

    Second, send them to Tokyo and Istanbul and Rome and anywhere we have a Sister City to train on the how to help them if they have an earthquake or tsunami or something.

    Call it, ‘San Francisco Expeditionary Force’ and run it like the Peace Corps except it’s an exchange.

    I’d have 100 SF firefighters and cops and nurses and other Public Safety personnel doing one to two year rotations.

    SF cops are too friggin’ provincial.

    Think of it, ten years down the line if we get a shake a few thousand people who know the lay of our land show up.

    Don’t get depressed.

    There are only 2,300 slots and they probably only have a couple of hundred untrainable bums.

    Think of them as one big high school class and work at reforming them one clique at a time all at the same time at once.

    Go Giants!

    We got us a season.

    Late.

    But, a season.

    h.

    1. Just read the facts on the Madden case ie crime lab. All the players were in Gascon and every 3 star and above. Memos on who knew what and when, everyone walked away Un hurt, Debbie took a hit on her pensions Kevin took a demotion but was pardoned by Suhr.
      100s of drug cases dropped

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.