a police chief sitting at a pubic meeting.
Police Chief Bill Scott at a community listening session. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

Coming soon: Live police surveillance

The Board of Supervisors passed Mayor London Breed’s contentious police surveillance policy on Tuesday, giving the SFPD the green light to live-monitor San Francisco residents and visitors through private cameras without a warrant. 

Four supervisors voted against the measure, citing concerns that civil rights organizations have raised all summer: That the policy allows for too much discretion in what police can surveil, without sufficient guardrails. Two police commissioners also came out against the policy earlier this month.

Supervisor Dean Preston called the policy “a complete leap of faith” in the police department, and supervisors Shamann Walton and Connie Chan pointed to times when the police have misused evidence or failed to use it as reasons not to give the police sweeping new powers.

“People have been violating civil liberties since my ancestors were brought here from an entirely, completely different continent,” said Board President Walton. “This whole ‘just trust the police department,’ I don’t know where we get that from.”

The new policy will be in place for 15 months prior to review. It will allow police to request access to private cameras during emergencies, large events, or if they are investigating an active misdemeanor or felony. These cameras include the extensive camera networks operated by private Community Benefit Districts.

“When nearly every civil rights organization in San Francisco is ringing the alarm, our elected leaders should listen,” said the ACLU’s Jennifer Cagle in a statement after the policy passed the Rules Committee last week in a 2-1 vote. “The policy moving forward gives the police extraordinary, dangerous live surveillance powers, and then hopes that they’ll be honest when self-auditing.” 

Preston, Walton, Chan, and Supervisor Hillary Ronen voted against the policy, which will be heard before final passage by the Board next week.

‘Community’ missing at community listening sessions for new traffic-stop policy

At the third “community listening session” this month hosted by the Human Rights Commission, SFPD top brass came out to the Bayview Opera House to hear feedback from the community on its proposed traffic stop policy.

To what extent the “community” was represented at the session, though, is unclear. The attendees were almost all people of color, and primarily Black. But the seats were occupied by members of the police department, including Chief Bill Scott and members of his command staff, the Department of Police Accountability, and the Human Rights Commission. 

Some present were indeed connected to the target community: The Department of Police Accountability policy attorney Jermain Jones said his parents lived nearby in the Bayview, though they knew nothing of the meeting when he mentioned it to them. Two members of CARE San Francisco sported their organization’s t-shirts; the organization’s director, Uzuri Pease-Greene, a former supervisor candidate in District 10, is a recovering addict who was formerly unhoused, and said that these days she does bias training at the police academy. And some of those from the Human Rights Commission shared their personal experiences of racism and discrimination at the hands of police, one of them nervously telling an officer to his face that she didn’t believe police should exist. 

But seemingly missing from the conversation were the regular people, unaffiliated with the city or any organization. 

The tables didn’t fill up, and stacks of shrimp po’boys remained untouched. 

The Human Rights Commission secretary told Mission Local that a couple dozen people were attending the event remotely, but she seemed disappointed that her organization’s “extensive outreach” hadn’t brought people out in person. Save for Pease-Green, none of the advocates who often protest after police shootings were physically present. 

The policy discussed on Tuesday attempts to limit pretextual stops for low-level infractions, which are often used as an excuse to look for evidence of criminal activity, and are disproportionately enforced among people of color. Several working groups and community listening sessions have taken place over the past two months as the policy has been under review. Attendance by the general community has been sparse.

Policing politics

In case you missed it, last week the San Francisco Police Commission voted in its new leadership in an upset 4-3 vote: Mayoral appointee Max Carter-Oberstone sided with Board of Supervisors appointees (and against his fellow Breed appointees) to elect Cindy Elias as the commission’s new president. 

Drama followed Thursday morning, when the San Francisco Standard reported that Breed accused Carter-Oberstone of dishonesty, claiming he indicated that he’d support her choice for president, Larry Yee. This would have continued the tradition of having the mayor’s choice serve as president.

Carter-Oberstone staunchly denied this accusation and stated that “Mayor Breed shouldn’t have called me a liar.” He wrote that he’d be willing to back up his version of events under penalty of perjury.

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. Again I am with Lane on this story. I am a native San Franciscan and have followed the horrible traffic accidents that have taken countless lives. Mission Local did a detailed story of a man that lost his life to a traffic accident recently. Clearly we need more traffic enforcement. I don’t text and drive, nor drive after drinking not one once of liquor. Our Vision Zero should start with ourselves.

  2. This Mayor is petty, spiteful, mean and she bullies and menaces her appointees to do her bidding. Mark her. Not good for us. Not good for San Francisco. She is not a leader. Not a policy maker. She makes speeches. Photo ops with shovels and air kisses. Attends sound bitified press conferences. And movie premieres. All about appearance. Nothing to do with impacting the diverse folk from all races, backgrounds, economic levels and lifestyles who work and make this city run. She is the one who should been recalled.

  3. Funny Breed is the one calling someone else a liar. People in glass houses should not throw stones.
    Our current mayor is a steaming hot mess of weakness and projection. She thinks she owns the people she appoints or nominates. Maybe that’s why she sends members of her own staff to assist the DA.

  4. Who on EARTH thinks the SFPD is capable of policing themselves? This video surveillance policy is a dangerous violation of civil liberties. Let the cameras go both ways and show what the police are up to when they think nobody’s watching. Privacy is a core value for all Californians. I usually don’t argue for the “slippery slope “ but good grief.

  5. Thank you for exposing the poorly timed effort by the Human Rights Commission to make policing, and dangerous driving, even worse in San Francisco.

    Traffic stops are down and dangerous driving is up; the Chronicle did a story. The HRC is still pushing a Boudin all-police-are-Derek-Chauvin narrative, but 1) it’s not true, the SFPD is not Ferguson or Minneapolis, and 2) most of us realize that.

    Please let us get our city back under control. If you hate the Minneapolis police department, go to Minneapolis and tell them.

    1. Dear Sir, you seem to conflate the issues in San Francisco with something that happened in Minneapolis. That’s because you seem to forget the SFPD’s own record. Like watching a robbery and doing nothing, letting go someone stealing catalytic converters witnessed by another citizen, withholding exculpatory evidence, shooting first and asking questions layer incidents, or even a police captain’s son on the police force getting into a violent ruckus at a mission bar.

      Oh and that’s just since 2000. Pick a decade.

      It’s called history. Remembering history is not a hateful event (your words not mine) — it’s what mature adults do when they want to improve and evolve.

      Chesa did not control the police. No DA or mayor controls the police force in San Francisco, so I’m not sure why you even mention Chesa at all.
      Perhaps because you have no argument and need to create straw men to beat because nothing you just said has any substance or relevance to someone who remembers the history of SFPD.