When the head of the city's police union, Gary Delagnes, appeared before the San Francisco Police Commission May 10, he told a story based on his recent lunch with Boston's former top cop, Kathleen O'Toole.
"We talked about the similarities between San Francisco and Boston and the similar problems that we have," Delagnes recounted. "Commissioner O'Toole said to me, ‘Gary, you have one problem, hopefully, I won't ever have to worry about, and that's the OCC.’”
She was referring to San Francisco's Office of Citizen Complaints, the watchdog agency that accepts and investigates allegations of police misconduct. Delagnes and others in the 2,200-member San Francisco Police Officers Association rarely conceal their disdain for the OCC and have regularly attacked it in the past.
But OCC officials say the cop union will always have it in for them, simply because they're good at what they do: holding officers accountable for their actions.
No news outlet in town started the year without at least one major story noting the slow pace of homicide investigations and the city's persistently high murder rate. A series of stories published by the San Francisco Chronicle in February that were critical of the police department's use of force against civilians led to citywide calls for reform. And a satirical video made by an officer late last year that appeared, at the very least, latently racist and homophobic drew the wrath of the mayor.
Despite the department's troubles, however, Delagnes seems interested in attacking the OCC for reminding residents that they have the right to report bad police behavior.
In a letter to the commission written May 10, Delagnes claimed the agency had "apparently been soliciting certain members of the community to file complaints against San Francisco police officers." Setting his sights on the OCC's lead prosecutor, Susan Leff, he fumed that her "outreach" had called into question her ability to conduct an objective analysis of any personnel matter involving San Francisco police officers."
"We find such behavior on the part of the attorney responsible for prosecuting police officers in this city reprehensible if not downright scandalous," Delagnes wrote.
Attached to the letter was an e-mail from Leff that Delagnes claimed proves his charges. The message, sent out late last September, was a response from Leff to a community member inquiring about what could be done to address an unidentified incident involving alleged infractions by a group of officers.
"I am very concerned about taking a complaint as soon as possible, so that the witness' memories of what they saw do not begin to fade," Leff wrote in the e-mail. "You or anyone else could file an anonymous complaint so we could start investigating."
There doesn't appear to be anything illegal about this, and OCC Director Kevin Allen argued as much in a letter to the commission the very next day. But the POA has never liked anonymous complaints, and in his letter, Delagnes demanded that Leff be placed on leave until the city attorney and police commission conduct a full investigation.
"I don't think there's going to be an investigation," Allen later told the Guardian. "I don't think the city attorney works for Mr. Delagnes." Asked whether Leff would be placed on leave, Allen responded, "Please. This agency supports Susan Leff, and she will continue as our litigator."