By Steven T. Jones
San Francisco officials have finally agreed to create a much-needed Early Intervention System for problem police officers – although the threats and political power of the San Francisco Police Officers Association have led to a system with serious flaws that will allow rogue cops to remain on the streets.
The process of creating the system, which is similar to those in place in many major American cities, began four years ago with scathing reports by the American Civil Liberties Union and San Francisco Controller’s Office criticizing the San Francisco Police Department for failing to identify officers prone to violent behavior or other abuses of their authority.
But the idea languished until the Police Commission was reformed a couple years ago and Commissioner Petra De Jesus pushed the department, the SFPOA, and the ACLU to work on developing the system and the idea got support and funding from both the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s Office.
On Tuesday, the Police Commission approved the system, which is scheduled to go into effect by the end of the year, despite objections from the ACLU and Samuel Walker, a criminologist and author who is considered the leading national expert on early intervention systems.
The sole dissenting vote on the commission came from David Campos, who told the Guardian, “We missed an opportunity to have a better system.”
While Campos, Walker, and ACLU police practices policy director Mark Schlosberg support the basic system – which tracks use of force, officer involved shootings, citizen complaints, civil lawsuits, on duty accidents, and vehicle pursuits – they note that it leaves out some key indicators used in more effective systems.
Those include instances in which criminal cases are dismissed or not filed because of officer misconduct, as well as cases when the officer charges an arrestee with resisting arrest or obstructing or assaulting the officer, charges that problem officers often use to cover for and justify their own violent behavior.
“Both of these indicators are included in the EIS of other law enforcement agencies. There is a consensus of opinion among experienced police commanders that a high rate of resisting arrest charges for an officer is a good indicator of difficulties in dealing with citizens,” Walker wrote to the commission.
In addition, the POA won a provision in the new program that its data cannot be used in considering whether an officer is promoted, disciplined, or allowed to train fellow officers. And to back its strong-arm stand, the POA threatened to sue the city if the commission made any changes to the plan that it helped write.
This was truly a missed opportunity, albeit one that Mayor Newsom will likely use to argue that he’s finally done something about the pervasive problem of officer misconduct that has been highlighted by both the Guardian and a high profile Chronicle series last year.
The POA has failed in recent elections to knock off their targeted candidates and measures, but as this incident demonstrates, they are still a powerhouse when it comes to protecting their members from scrutiny by the public or our political leaders.