Police Commissioner Cindy Elias questions Capt. Steven Ford on the SFPD's disproportionate use of force on black men. March 6, 2019.

One mayor-appointed police commissioner split from his fellow appointees on Wednesday to swing a vote for the commission’s new leadership — and end Mayor London Breed’s control of the body. 

In an unusual move, one of Breed’s appointees, Max Carter-Oberstone, voted with Board of Supervisors appointees to elect Board-appointee Cindy Elias as the commission’s new president, and himself as the new vice president.

The commission president gets final say on what appears on the commission’s agenda, and the last Board-appointed president was Julius Turman, who stepped down shortly before his death in 2018. The mayor gets to appoint a majority of the members on the seven-member board, which oversees the San Francisco Police Department, and typically one of her four appointees serves as the president. (The mayor and the board each get one appointee in the commission’s leadership.)

Elias, a former public defender and now labor attorney, was not a surprising choice for president; she is the commission’s longest-sitting member. But she has also been one of few commissioners who consistently demands answers and more transparency from the SFPD and its chief, Bill Scott. Elias has served as acting president since former president Malia Cohen left the commission earlier this year.  

Cindy Elias addresses the Police Commission
Cindy Elias addresses the Police Commission as its acting president in April, 2022.

Perhaps surprisingly to those who follow the commission closely, mayoral appointee Debra Walker made a competing motion to appoint mayoral appointee Larry Yee as the commission president, and Elias its vice president. 

Yee is one of the commission’s least active members, at least from a public perspective. He rarely provides input on hot-button issues, and typically does not involve himself in discussions about police reform. 

Walker pointed to Yee’s work in the Asian community to support his nomination. “We’ve seen a lot of attacks on folks in in the Asian community,” Walker said, “and the leadership of someone like Larry Yee can really be a move forward, I believe, in our discussions around solutions.”

Yee, Walker, and mayoral appointee Jim Byrne voted against the motion to elect Elias as president, but the motion passed with Carter-Oberstone’s support. Walker’s motion did not ultimately go up for a vote, since the first motion from Commissioner Kevin Benedicto passed. 

Elias was first appointed to the commission by the Board of Supervisors in 2018. She served as vice president under Malia Cohen, who was appointed by Mayor London Breed. 

Carter-Oberstone is also an attorney with a background in police reform. Prior to joining the Police Commission nearly a year ago, he worked on drafting legislation with NYU Law School’s Policing Project. Among other issues, the legislation looked at reducing often racially biased traffic stops and disciplinary consequences and decertification of police officers for misconduct. 

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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. Debra Walker is the poster hack for why the progressive political project has collapsed into a puddle of recirculating water. Why would anyone want to volunteer for a progressive campaign when odds are that those in power will flip political polarities on command to further their own particular interests like Walker has? Any politics that produces Debra Walker 2022 is a dead politics.

  2. Having followed the police commission closely for a long time I have sized up their competence level. Incompetent at best.

  3. Hm, so the argument for Yee as president was, “as a representative of a racial group that’s facing discrimination, they bring important perspectives we need to hear. Perhaps they aren’t as qualified as others who have worked harder to get this position, but we need to prioritize representation.”?

    I feel like I’ve heard that perspective before, but just can’t remember where…

  4. Let’s hope the new leadership insists that the police do their jobs.

    THIS is the biggest issue with San Francisco police: their work slowdown after the election of Chesa Boudin. The cops need to keep doing their jobs regardless of who the DA is. The work slowdown had a much bigger negative impact on the community than any individual incident of police malfeasance.

    The commission should look into incidents of cops not doing their jobs, such as the ones who refused to arrest people who were caught stealing catalytic converters and even gave them their tools back. Those cops should face scrutiny. We’re not paying the cops to stand back and watch crime.

    1. SFPD have for years been treated as though they were Bull Connor goons in Selma, 1962. The local press and the political types approach them with the presumption of guilt unlike the presumption of innocence predatory criminals are allowed.

      Why anyone would expect them do anything other than keep their heads down and try to make it to retirement or until they can find a position in a more favorable location is beyond my understanding.

      1. It’s OK to have to have that “victim” attitude and collect 1%er salaries and pensions? Sick. That’s one union that deserves to be busted.

        1. Completely agree. The police lobby allows them to create a narrative that always absolves them of any accountability. I have seen firsthand numerous cases where the police failed to do the very basic duties of their job. One involved a carjacking in our neighborhood where they showed up 20 minutes after the call and never filed a report. It is an absolute disgrace. As this publication has pointed out in the past, SF is far below the national average for arrest and case clearance rates. This nonsense of blaming this culture of incompetence on one DA has to stop. People need to do their jobs or lose them. Full stop.

      2. …because every police officer swore an oath to Serve and Protect when they agreed to their $100k-a-year service job.

        Policing is not like any office job where if you don’t feel sufficiently respected you can just keep your head down to collect your salary and whine like a baby online.

        If any police officer doesn’t agree with the amount of respect they think they deserve from an adoring public, then they should break their *ss to morally fulfill their mission to change that perception, or leave for a job that better accommodates their inflated sense of self worth.