The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on Monday discussed the mayor’s proposed Initiative Ordinance for the March 2024 election, which would allow voters to enshrine police policies governing surveillance technology and vehicle pursuits. In an hour-long hearing, supervisors and legal experts voiced concerns over surveillance, racial bias and lack of oversight.
Police Chief William Scott, while insisting that he could not “have a position” on specific issues on the measure, such as the pursuit policy, said “whatever policy that comes out of these will still have to go through the Police Commission.”
In fact, with the exception of installing security cameras, all the changes on the ballot measure will go through the Police Commission, leading Supervisor Ahsha Safaí to ask whether the Mayor’s office attempted to work within the Police Commission to make the policy adjustments before taking them to the voters.
“It seems some of these things are contrary to what we have worked with the chief over the last few years in this body, pushing for justice reform,” said Safaí at the end of the discussion.
“I think some of these feel a bit rushed,” he continued. “It’s contrary to what I heard from this chief over the last five or six years, in terms of wanting to work in a more collaborative fashion.”
Safaí also noted the racial bias in police encounters, which is still “a great concern in this city,” he said. “When I heard that, once voters weigh in, there’s still work that needs to be done with the police commission and department, I’d like to learn a bit more about that.”
Supervisor Shamann Walton, who is also on the Rules Committee raised questions about the measure. “If we are going to chase people in the streets of San Francisco, which have and can lead to death, then we are headed in the wrong direction,” Supervisor Shamann Walton said.
“Most certainly, we do not put ballot measures in front of people that eliminate oversight,” Walton added.
The proposed ballot measure would authorize officers to use technology like drones and cameras to fight crimes, said Andres Power, a policy director in Breed’s office. For additional new technology, the measure would permit the police department to use surveillance technology for up to one year without Board of Supervisors’ approval, so long as best practices for data and privacy are followed.
The measure will also allow officers to actively pursue an individual for felonies and violent misdemeanors, including retail theft, vehicle theft and auto burglaries, “when deemed safe to do so,” Power said. Officers can also file reports by using body-worn camera footage “when visual documentation is sufficient to fulfill the report requirement.”
The measure requires that the Police Commission hold hearings and public engagement, to involve the community in the conversation before any major change in police policy.
The goal of the ballot measure, said Power, is to maximize the efficiency of police officers by bringing them from behind their desks and into the streets.
“This measure makes sure our officers are using their time in the best possible way, being out on the street working in communities and supporting public safety,” Power said.
During the public comment section, Julie Traun, the director of court programs at the Bar Association of San Francisco, also weighed in. She said the association had issued a 16-page letter regarding the measure.
“We are deeply troubled by this,” said Traun. “There are dangerous parts of this that we really need to stop and take a look at, and consult the Department of Justice before we proceed further.”
Power said that the California Department of Justice had provided feedback, but not “an opinion one way or another.” It will weigh in after the Police Commission adopts the changes on the measure, he added.
Mayor Breed submitted the proposed measure for a hearing before the Rules Committee on Oct. 17. The mayor will sign the measure onto the March 2024 ballot, where it would need a simple majority to pass into law.