Secrecy wins, 4-3

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By Tim Redmond

Late last night, after all the debate about surveillance cameras was over, the San Francisco Police Commission narrowly voted down a plan that would have made a strong statement against secrecy in police discipline.

The vote was 4-3,. with the usual pro-cop suspects, Louse Renne, Joe Marshall and Yvonne Lee joined by the swing vote, Joe Alioto Veronese. He should have voted the other way.

Here's what happened: After the state Supreme Court came out with its atrocious ruling in a case called Copley, essentially enshrining all cop discipline cases in a veil of secrecy, Commissioner David Campos proposed an intriguing idea: A lot of disciplinary cases are settled before a formal trial. That's usually to the benefit of the cop, who can accept a lower penalty in exchange for, in effect, pleading guilty. Campos suggested that the commission simply state, as a matter of policy, that no cases would be settled unless the officer involved agreed to waive his right to confidentiality and let the public know about the charges and the outcome.
That would simply continue the way things have been done for the pas 14 years, prior to this horrible court decision.
When the idea first came up, Alioto Veronese supported it, but over the past few weeks, he's backed away. And last night, with a bit of a convoluted explanation, he cast the deciding vote to shoot down the Campos proposal. Not good.

By the way, the meeting ended with Campos and Commissioner Theresa Sparks demanding that Chief Heather Fong explain her rather bizarre statements on police foot patrols.The chief had initially argued that foot patrols would never work, because the department didn't have enough staff. Then she presented her her own foot-patrol plan. Then she was quoted in a TV interview as appearing to say that if the supervisors passed the law, she'd ignore it anyway.

What, exactly, was the chief's position, and how did it change so radically from one day to the next? Fong ducked beautifully. But the commissioners promised to bring the issue back.