San Francisco Police Department headquarters. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

The Department of Police Accountability on Wednesday accused the San Francisco Police Department of pushing the oversight body out of police shooting investigations.

The allegations came at a Police Commission meeting, during discussions about a new memorandum of understanding between the Department of Police Accountability and the SFPD on procedures after such incidents. 

“There’s literally no incentive at this point for DPA to enter into any type of MOU with the language that has been proposed,” said Department of Police Accountability staff attorney Diana Rosenstein during Wednesday evening’s Police Commission meeting. Rosenstein drafted an agreement, but received a far more limiting counterproposal from the police department. “Because it not only does not give us any additional information, it actually takes information away from us.” 

Currently, Rosenstein said, the Department of Police Accountability has access to the scene after a police shooting. Under a proposal from the SFPD that Rosenstein received in recent weeks, DPA would have access to the scene only with the District Attorney’s consent. 

Rosenstein called this “a huge step backwards.”

Since Chief Bill Scott moved last year to terminate an agreement with the District Attorney’s office regarding investigation of police force incidents, the SFPD has been working on two new agreements: One with the District Attorney’s office, and another with DPA. 

The original agreement designated the District Attorney’s office as the primary investigative body for police shooting incidents. DPA last fall asked for its investigatory role to be codified in any new agreement between the District Attorney’s office and the police department, citing its charter-mandated duty to investigate police officers for misconduct, including police shootings. 

Though police commissioners were supportive of the idea, Scott and his staff resisted. It was decided that a separate agreement between the police department and DPA would ensure the oversight agency’s rights. 

Now, the draft agreement proposed by the police department to the Department of Police Accountability gives DPA less power than it currently has under the city charter, and gives the District Attorney’s office final authority on investigations, Rosenstein said. 

Rosenstein wrote in her draft agreement that DPA, like the District Attorney’s office, would have access to a police briefing on the scene of a shooting. This would include witness information, involved officers’ information, and access to witness statements and evidence known at the time. 

But the proposal DPA received, Rosenstein said, gives the District Attorney’s office ultimate authority over interviews, and does not specify whether DPA would get such access. Her attempt to memorialize DPA’s timely access to records and documents, she said, was “shut down, period.” 

“For us to lose the ability to observe the witness as the witness explains what happened in an officer-involved shooting shortly after,”  Rosenstein said, “it would really thwart our ability to fairly, impartially, and thoroughly investigate.”

Currently, the Department of Police Accountability is permitted to observe witness interviews in realtime. The department is also entitled to records and documents from the police department for use in its investigations, but often struggles to get such information in a timely manner. 

“So, if the DA’s office tells us to take a hike, we have to take a hike that’s going to affect our ability to conduct the best possible investigation that we can,” Rosenstein said. 

Scott asked for more time to come to an agreement with DPA, and resisted police commissioners’ suggestions that a commissioner “referee” their future discussions. 

“Let’s give it a chance for DPA and the [police] department to work things out,” said Scott, who argued that Rosenstein was speaking prematurely. After a new version of the SFPD-DA agreement was published, Scott said, the Department of Police Accountability would understand why the police department made the changes that it did. 

The matter was tabled until next week’s police commission meeting.  


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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. It sounds like this will result in more lawsuits and put SF on the map as a dis-fuctional city. Oh, that’s right SFMTA and other departments already did that. Thanks again Mission Local for keeping an eye on the disarray that pervades SF City Hall.

  2. A critical, independent eye is necessary in SF where covering for questionable police behavior is going along to get along.

  3. This doesn’t make sense. PDA needs unfettered access. With all the shenanigans police across the country have been pulling, we don’t need to limit oversight.

  4. DPA seems like another made up SF department using tax payer $$$ to do nothing much. I’m sure they have highly paid employees and fancy titles to go along with it. To man special departments in SF. The city is in the red hundreds of millions of dollars, if not close to 1 Billion dollars soon. Time to trip the fat we added when the $$$ was flowing.

    1. The city needs to open the books and show how the money is allocated. Useless spending on agencies like this and the homeless pandemic is driving the city into the ground.

  5. Campers,

    We have to do it ourselves at the polls.

    We need a Charter Amendment guaranteeing an Open Source Voting algorithm.

    We heed a Charter Amendment to Elect our Police Chief.

    It all begins with those two moves and the BOS will not make these two moves.

    Happy trails !


  6. DPA is supposed to have access to all SFPD record and info. Also per city charter all CCSF employees are required to cooperate with DPA investigations so would that make the DA in violation of city charter if they don’t assist DPA.? What is the penalty if no cooperation?DPA needs a seat at the table but administrative investigations have always taken a back seat to criminal investigations. Full cooperation should be provided but the milquetoast commission will hem and haw.
    Also, re FBI and SFPD. FBI will never cooperate or assist with a DPA. Investigation simply because they don’t have to. So if SFPD and FBI are to have a working agreement then the MOU needs to include that FBI will cooperate with DPA investigations as long as they don’t compromise the FBI investigation. Won’t happen

  7. This news dovetails sadly into an article in the NYTimes today, about bystanders essentially saving the life of a young Black man who was being unjustly threatened by police.

    The article’s writer points out all of the places in which the police could justify the murder of a young man. It is more than disheartening that the SFPD want to shield themselves from murder and violence, and not to genuinely better themselves with even a modicum of oversight.

    Here is a link to the article (not sure it is okay to post to Mission Local?):

  8. Well, looks like Breed and her lackeys and presumably per her backers are pulling the old ‘accuse the opposition of doing what we are really doing’ – obstruction, coddling criminals, allowing illegal activity to take place out in the open in broad daylight, and saying we shouldn’t have to deal with this sh*t.


  9. It’s bad enough that police want qualified immunity, but they’re even worse because they want unqualified impunity.