San Francisco Looks to Ban Hiring of Cops With Histories of Misconduct

Police guard San Francisco City Hall as a crowd protests the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day. (Courthouse News photo / Maria Dinzeo)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — As demonstrations against police brutality and racism rip across the nation, San Francisco city leaders are responding to calls for police reform with a proposal that could ban hiring officers with histories of misconduct.

San Francisco’s progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced a legislative resolution Tuesday urging the city’s Civil Service Commission to prohibit the police department and sheriff’s office from hiring officers with sustained findings of misconduct.

The resolution would also urge the commission to ban hiring officers who quit a law enforcement agency while misconduct investigations against them were pending. Boudin said the legislation aims to address a loophole that allows officers to resign to avoid forthcoming findings of excessive force or racial bias.

“This is about bringing all of San Francisco’s leadership together to say we stand against police brutality,” Boudin said. “We stand in favor of having law enforcement agencies that are held to a higher standard of professionalism.”

The resolution was introduced as protests calling for police reform have erupted across the Bay Area and United States in reaction to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe.”

The proposed resolution, which already has support from seven of the city’s 11 supervisors, is expected to pass. It has not yet been scheduled for a full board vote.

Supervisor Walton, who represents the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood with the largest concentration of black residents in San Francisco, said the resolution is just one piece of a larger package of reforms in the works.

“This is one small step toward many others we are pushing forward,” Walton said.

The supervisor said he is also working on legislation that could require payouts for civil rights lawsuits to come from police department or sheriff’s office budgets, instead of the city’s general fund. It is believed that could incentive the departments to take additional steps to prevent officer misconduct.

Walton also plans to introduce a charter amendment, which requires voter approval, to ban the city from hiring officers with histories of misconduct. He said there was not adequate time to meet a June 16 deadline for getting that proposal on the ballot this November.

The resolution, which will be formally introduced at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, seeks to thwart a pattern of bad officers transferring from one law enforcement agency to another, Walton said.

“A lot of times we see officers go from city to city where they have complaints of excessive force,” Walton said. “We never want those officers to end up in law enforcement here in San Francisco.”

Boudin acknowledged that California law limits access to police personnel files, which can conceal if an officer resigned to avoid misconduct findings. However, he said the city should use every tool at its disposal to weed out bad apples by investigating their pasts.

“We can’t guarantee we have all the information we need, but this resolution aims to ensure for San Franciscans that to the extent possible we are not ever hiring people who have that kind of misconduct — that we will do our best to root out those officers and make sure they are not carrying guns on our streets,” Boudin said.

The progressive DA also called for changes to state law to make police misconduct files more transparent and accessible. He said his office often doesn’t discover an officer’s history of misconduct until that officer is called to testify in criminal court, triggering a requirement that misconduct files be turned over pursuant to the 1963 Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland.

“The point is we need more transparency,” Boudin said. “Right now there really is a black box protecting officers.”

Boudin added most San Francisco police officers have no allegations of serious misconduct against them and “serve with pride every day,” but some continue to serve on the front lines despite having “extensive histories of misconduct.”

The resolution will go to the board’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee before returning to the city’s board of supervisors for a full vote. Walton said he expects the resolution to pass within a few weeks.

Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Associations, the labor union that represents the city’s officers, called the resolution “a political stunt.”

“If these political grandstanders that introduced this resolution would have engaged stakeholders, they would know that the San Francisco Police Officers Association does not want police officers from other agencies that do not meet our high professional expectations,” Montoya said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this latest politically motivated salvo looks like another political stunt rushed out to exploit the horrific death of George Floyd from our former public defender Chesa Boudin. Further, it sets a standard that even if an officer has been proven innocent against false complaints, they cannot work in San Francisco. How is that fair or reasonable?”

The proposal on reforming the city’s police hiring practices comes one day after Boudin joined a coalition of current and former district attorneys in calling for a ban on police unions and law enforcement agencies endorsing or donating to the campaigns for district attorney candidates.

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