To try a cop - Page 2

Will new commissioners and rules reduce SFPD's discipline backlog?

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Police Chief George Gascon wants more authority to discipline or exonerate cops accused of misconduct

Gascón refused to comment directly for this story, stating through SFPD spokesman Sgt. Troy Dangerfield that his thoughts on police discipline were "already out there." But the chief did tell the Board of Supervisors Budget Committee that the lag in the discipline process was hurting the usable number of officers at his disposal. San Francisco's charter mandates that the number of full-duty sworn police officers cannot fall below 1,971.

"Two weeks ago, we had an individual who had a case that was pending for nine years," Gascón told the Budget Committee in June. "I am unable to use him in the field. He will be one of the many who will not be able to do police work as we would expect of someone with a police officer rank."

And when Budget Committee Chair John Avalos asked if the officer was still on the payroll, Gascón responded: "Absolutely."

The commission's Procedural Rules Governing Trial of Disciplinary Cases, which were adopted in April, limit hearings to less than four hours and state several times that requests for delays, called continuances, are generally disfavored. "In the past they've turned into trials," Hammer said. "But these are administrative hearings."

Angela Chan, a stalwart San Francisco immigrant rights advocate and staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus and new police commissioner appointed in May, said the commission is prioritizing tackling the backlog. "I know how to manage a docket," she told the Guardian. "The very first thing I do when I have an initial conference call is set a hearing date."

But if officers say their attorneys can't make that date and request a continuance? "My response is to get another attorney," Chan said. "There is no haggling. As a commission, we have to stay on top of the docket."

In addition to the rules pushing police commissioners to hold prompt, fair hearings, Hammer and former Police Commissioner David Onek instituted an accountability report for the commission. The commissioners envisioned a monthly report published on the commission's website — similar to the OCC's quarterly reports — that outline the total number of disciplinary cases before the commission, the number of cases assigned to each commissioner for evidence intake, and measurements to gauge how well the commission was sticking to the rules adopted in April.

The actual document is a far cry from what the commission envisioned, listing only active cases before the commission, cases filed to date for 2010, and individual commissioner's number of assigned hearings. It is not available online.

As of July 31, the commission has 44 pending cases, including appeals. Police Commission President Joe Marshall, whose recent reappointment stalled in the Board of Supervisors because of ambiguity about his position on the Secure Communities program, completed no hearings in 2010. He has been assigned eight. Hammer completed six hearings, has an additional three in progress, and has two more scheduled.

Commission Vice President Thomas Mazzucco has held and decided two hearings this year and has three more scheduled. Petra DeJesus completed one hearing, settled two cases, and has two more hearings scheduled. Angela Chan has scheduled four of the five cases she has been assigned. New mayoral Police Commission appointee Carol Kingsley was not included in the latest report because she began her term Aug. 4.

Hammer also wants to refine what is known as the hearing officer process, in which accused officers can elect to have the evidence portion of their case heard by a hearing officer. That officer then reports to the full commission, which makes the final ruling on disciplining the officer. The problem is that getting all parties to agree on a hearing officer takes a lot of time. In addition, final reports to the commission sometimes can take months to generate.

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