A new civilian oversight board on Monday evening discussed its first course of action: How to hire an effective Inspector General to investigate misconduct at the Sheriff’s Department, and whether this position would be paid competitively enough to attract the right talent.
The board convened nearly two years after San Francisco voters approved Proposition D in 2020, which called for a civilian oversight board for the Sheriff’s Department. Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the ballot measure in response to allegations of abuses at the hands of deputies and the department’s mishandling of evidence. The Sheriff’s Department manages the city’s jails and courts.
The board, which will be similar to the Police Commission in its responsibilities, will launch and oversee a new Office of Inspector General that will conduct investigations and audits of the Sheriff’s Department, much like the Department of Police Accountability does for the police. It will also recommend best practices for the Sheriff’s Department and hold hearings and issue subpoenas as needed.
Walton’s aide, Tracy Gallardo, raised concerns to Mission Local that were echoed by board member Jayson Wechter on Monday: The pay for the Inspector General, listed as a “Department Head I” at $143,000 to $183,000, may be too low to attract a qualified candidate.
“That’s below the comparable positions in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Wechter said. “This position is going to be unlike any other position in the city and county of San Francisco: It’s going to be a newly created position that is going to create a department from scratch, that is going to be doing oversight of a body that has not had civilian oversight before.”
Paul Henderson, who heads the Department of Police Accountability, is a “Department Head II,” earning up to $227,000.
The board agreed to discuss the salary with the Department of Human Resources.
The seven board members, four nominated by the Board of Supervisors and three by Mayor London Breed, also discussed whether to launch a nationwide search, or turn to a referral from the Department of Police Accountability.
The new hire will launch the department and hire investigators to look into Sheriff’s Department misconduct. Wechter pushed to consult with an expert to hire the Inspector General, rejecting fellow board member Julie Soo’s suggestion to prioritize referrals from DPA.
Wechter added that he saw this hiring process conducted poorly when he joined DPA’s predecessor, the Office of Citizen Complaints, in 1983.
“It took years, if not decades, for that agency to recover,” he said. “Hiring the inspector general is probably the single most important decision this board will make. … If you don’t hire the right person, you put in a very poor foundation and that can doom the success of the agency.”
The new civilian board members come from diverse backgrounds, though only some have experience with law-enforcement oversight: Wechter was a longtime investigator with the Department of Police Accountability, and Dion-Jay Brookter served a partial term on the Police Commission before stepping down last fall.
Other commissioners include Ovava Eterei Afuhaamango, William Monroe Palmer II, Michael Nguyen, Xóchitl Carrión and Julie Soo.
Implementation of sheriff’s oversight in San Francisco has been a long and bumpy road.
Four of the board members were appointed by the Board of Supervisors more than a year ago, in July, 2021, and another two by the mayor last November. This means that some members will term out of their seats come March, 2023, so the board on Monday was eager to get started on what will likely be a months-long process of selecting an inspector general.
Gallardo said the process has been slowed by bureaucracy, but DPA head Paul Henderson also raised concerns to Mission Local that the process was handled inappropriately, resulting in an inefficient mess.
“There were cooks in the kitchen, and no one was talking to each other,” Henderson said earlier this month. Although DPA has been managing sheriff’s oversight for years now, different city departments were in silos interpreting what needed to be done in preparation for the new board — incorrectly, according to Henderson — and rushing to swear in new commissioners without planning for the training required within 90 days.
The Department of Police Accountability currently investigates citizen complaints about the Sheriff’s Department, as well as certain other cases, including alleged sexual misconduct or use-of-force incidents causing injury.
Despite the hiccups along the way, however, most had a positive outlook at Monday evening’s meeting, and seemed hopeful for a smooth transition and effective new working relationships.
And many were eager to avoid pitfalls that the Police Commission and the DPA have fallen into over the years, such as a domineering commission president, or an ineffective department head.
Unlike in its dealings with the SFPD, though, DPA has had “a very agreeable and productive relationship in terms of document protocol, how we’re handling cases, access to materials,” said DPA Chief of Staff Sarah Hawkins. “I’m sure the sheriff’s department will continue that with this commission.”