Opinion: SF needs police domestic violence policy


EDITORS NOTE: This story includes a correction. The original version misstated the disposition of Judge McBride's charges.


Everything I've written on the Mirkarimi case has attracted sizable volumes of comments (see here). Our suggestion that the mayor tread cautiously before seeking his official removal is bound to create controversy, too. Some advocates for victims of domestic violence are satisfied with the outcome of the case, and some are not. Former Sheriff Mike Hennessey told the Chron that Mirkarimi should stay in office:

"My opinion is that he should remain in the job and be given a chance to show what he can do with the office. I think he's being punished accordingly by the justice system," said Hennessey, who has been lauded by victims' advocacy groups over the years for domestic violence services and programs that began under his watch. While admitting guilt to the crime of false imprisonment is serious, he added, it should not automatically disqualify Mirkarimi from holding office. "During my time as sheriff, I hired many people with criminal records who have done outstanding jobs for the department," Hennessey said. "Oftentimes, you have to look at the whole issue of rehabilitation and redemption."

If Mirkarimi remains in office, he won't be the only public official in the law-enforcement business who was charged with domestic violence and pled to a lesser offense but kept his job. In 1999, Superior Court Judge James McBride was charged with slamming his wife's hand into a door during an argument; represented by Jim Collins, who is also now on the bench, McBride got diversion on a witness intimidation charge (diversion, which leads to dismissal of all charges, is not normally available in DV cases) and stayed on the bench the entire time.

The chair of San Francisco NOW thinks none of that is OK -- she thinks the city needs to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for law-enforcement officers who are convicted of a broadly defined set of domestic violence offenses (and Sheriff Mirkarimi, she argues, would fall under those guidelines). I'm posting the opinion piece she sent me below to keep the discussion going.

By Mona Lisa Wallace
chair, San Francisco National Organization for Women (NOW)
vice president, California National Organization for Women.

When the new sheriff in town, Ross Mirkarimi, pled guilty Monday to misdemeanor false imprisonment (in exchange for prosecutors dropping three other charges), it begged a bigger question: Should Mirkarimi keep his office? Mayor Ed Lee has turned to the to the City Charter asking whether there are grounds for dismissal. San Francisco NOW proposes a simpler solution: the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office and Police Department should immediately adopt a model policy on police domestic violence.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police put forth a model policy for domestic violence by police officers in 2003. The policy “recognizes that the profession of law enforcement is not immune from members committing domestic violence against their intimate partners.” The policy defines domestic violence, emphasizes victim safety and prescribes zero tolerance for domestic violence by police officers.

Once adopted, this policy provides very clear definitions of domestic violence and policies for addressing domestic violence committed by police officers. Although Mirkarimi’s plea avoided the domestic violence charges, the videos and photos of the sheriff’s wife’s bruised arm after the December 31st incident confirm physical restraint, which under the model policy is defined as domestic violence. Police officers found guilty of committing domestic violence must be terminated.

San Francisco NOW believes we need to hold ourselves to the highest standards in preventing domestic violence, which affects one in four women in their lifetimes. The number of victims grows exponentially because children who experience the abuse are also traumatized.

Actions have consequences. Rush Limbaugh verbally abused a woman and he lost sponsors. Mirkarimi committed what the model policy defines as domestic violence, so he should lose his job and his pension. That’s what zero tolerance means.  It should not matter that he has friends in high places. It should not matter that he needs the sheriff’s salary and pension. 

People who uphold the law against domestic violence need to be beyond reproach. Mirkarimi is not.

SFNOW is disturbed by the national resurgence of a “war on women” apparent in the current presidential primary elections and congressional hearings working to roll back women’s rights through legislation. We have joined “Unite Against the War on Women,” a movement now 20,000 strong who will march on every state capitol on April 28th to say enough is enough. Join us at: uniteCalifornia@gmail.com 

We sincerely hope that San Francisco rises to take a strong position opposing the war on women. The city’s sheriff’s and police departments should immediately adopt the model policy on domestic violence by police officers, and quickly apply the zero tolerance standards to our top law enforcement officers.

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