Elevating the issue

Domestic violence groups push for policy change

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The Mirkarimi saga and the troubling prevalence of domestic violence are disturbing. But if there's a bright side, it's that advocacy groups, including La Casa de Las Madres, the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, and SF National Organization of Women (NOW) have been able to use the incident to raise awareness about domestic violence. Now, they may be affecting city policy.

Upset by Mirkarimi's infamous comment that the incident was a "private matter, a family matter," La Casa de Las Madres has funded several billboards in English and Spanish declaring that "domestic violence is NEVER a private matter" and directing the public to domestic violence response services.

For some, the next step is to permanently codify a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence by law enforcement officers.

In 2003, the International Association of Chiefs of Police wrote a model policy on this topic that has been adopted in some California counties. NOW SF Chair Mona Lisa Wallace told us that several feminist and anti-domestic violence nonprofits are currently in talks with the mayor and SFPD about adopting it in San Francisco.

"We want domestic violence victims to trust that the officers in blue are on their side," said Wallace.

The policy states that "Any officer convicted through criminal proceedings of a domestic violence crime shall be terminated from the department."

Had the policy been in place already, Mirkarimi likely would not have pled guilty, since it would have automatically cost him his job. It also states: "If the facts of the case indicate that domestic violence has occurred or any department policies have been violated, administrative action shall be taken independent of any criminal proceedings as soon as practicable. "

That clause would involve the discretion of police chiefs, commissioners, and the sheriff. It would be hard to apply it to the sheriff, who is an elected official who reports to nobody.

The policy also makes clear that "Any officer determined through an administrative investigation to have committed domestic violence shall be terminated from the department."

When police are charged with crimes, they go through administrative hearing investigation. They are first "tried" by the police chief, and then, if need be, the Police Commission. These administrative investigations can lead to dismissal, though they don't in the majority of cases.

If the policy was in place, and an administrative investigation found that a police officer had engaged in domestic violence, the commission members would have no discretion: they would be obliged to terminate the officer.

In Mirkarimi's case, an "administration investigation," as required under the policy, would likely look very much like the procedure he is already undergoing. It's unlikely that it would have made the process any less drawn-out or consuming of public money, attention, and resources. But, if adopted, the policy would represent a broader city stance on domestic violence beyond terminating Mirkarimi. It includes procedures for screening police candidates with histories of abuse and working with police to prevent them from committing violent crimes.

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