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.


The new Sheriff is guilty of a crime of imprisoning his own wife? He should not be in a position of power. Period.

P.S. I'd already signed up for the march through school, so cool you guys have a link to it! :) Here's the site too: www.wearewomenmarch.net

Posted by GuestieGuest on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

So absolutist,no nuance NOW thinks it knows what's good for Eliana Lopez and her family,despite her profound objections? The theorem that all bicep bruises are always indicia of beating and abuse is false. I wonder how many NOW members have bruised one another without raising Mona Lisa's ire?

Imagine this hypothetical: parents have intense argument about the mother's wish to take a young child to a foreign country without the father. The mother is very agitated and the whole situation is upsetting the child who came into the room unexpectedly.The dad reaches out and takes the mother's arm and says, "let's go in the kitchen, away from the child and spare him our argument". The mom will have none of it and jerks her arm away, creating the bruise, at least in part by her own action. Does this really rise to the level requiring a mandatory destruction of this man and this family,as NOW insists? Because it you want to insist it's domestic violence and that he should be destroyed, I think it's a crock.

Posted by Guest Christine Craft on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

Meanwhile, Hayes-White and Turman sk87 because they're family even though they clearly raised fist in anger at their partners, breaking up the relationships.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

Oh my goodness. Christine Craft re-emerges as an apologist for a very "powerful man". Where have you been? KGO is a has-been since you've been away.

Posted by DanC on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

Did you think that all women who have fought court battles to secure equal rights for American women were single-minded , believing that all women are always wonderful and all men always bad? I don't know, have never met, talked to, or communicated in any fashion with Ross Mirkarimi, but I know a railroading when I see it. A neighbor who claims to be a legal beagle, but is only faux? An ex-girlfriend who is reminiscent of Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction"? A contention that a bicep pinch just HAS to be domestic violence. I'm not buying it. I had one of the lawyers on for an hour on KGO last weekend. Sorry you missed it.

Posted by GuestChristine Craft on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 7:26 am

The beauty of the model policy for domestic violence by police officers is that we, the politicians, the radio commentators, or general public don't have to define what constitutes dv. It's defined and includes physical restraint.

Posted by Guest Grace on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 9:52 am

That is an interesting hypothetical, Guest Christine, but it doesn't quite illustrate the full extent of Mirkarimi's innoence and, in fact, valor.

Imagine that Ed Lee, Rose Pak and several Chamber of Commerce thugs broke into the Mirkarimi residence while Ross was in the shower. Eliana confronted them and Pak let loose with a string of expletives so strong and damaging that they bruised Eliana's arm. Ross emerged from the shower and, feeling sympathy rather than anger for the scoundrels, slowly explained the errors of their ways, using perfect Cantonese dialect. He made it a teachable moment.

The intruders left, fully chastised but they forgot to tell Madison that the bribe they paid her to distribute the CGI video they made was off, so it got out anyway.

Ross, full of compassion for the difficulties of others, bravely stood up and took the blame rather than see other people get hurt.

Posted by Steroidal Progressive on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

So it was Marcos who obsessively posted all over the internet about hayes-white during the beginning of the Mirkarimi disaster.. Makes sense...

Posted by Greg on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 6:26 pm

But i suspect that's a familar feeling for him.

Posted by Anon-y mouse on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

No that was me.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

Hello Marcos

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 7:26 am

that the goofy right complained about.

These hysteric "the sky is falling" pleadings must garner, some cash, some notice in the press, and likely a few people join up for a year, while the diminishing return is further travel into irrelevance.

Good god... the 70's are well over.

"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."

Posted by Guest on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

I just want to say as a woman and mother, there is a need for higher standards in our world today. Everyone wants to get off with an excuse or a reason "why" it's okay to do awful things like bruising your own wife and then trying to get out of it. Why not just apologize and ask for forgiveness for what he had done? I thought marriage was about honesty, love and respect. Where were the honesty, love and respect during that crime? If we can't even trust the people that are guiding our law officers and feel safe under their guard, who can we trust? I personally don't feel safe knowing the sheriff wants to dismiss this as something that's "not that big of a deal" and wants to continue on as if this never happened. The question that it poses in my mind is what else has he done that we don't know about?

I want him to take full responsibility for what he has done. After all, the law is supposed to make examples out of people like him.

So, as I titled this post with a question, I will end it with the same one:
"Where are our standards in this world today?"

Posted by P Dubs on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

your post holds no meaning?

What color is the wind?

Posted by matlock on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 3:53 am

It's hard to fathom that in the 21st century, in a so called "progressive" city, there are still people excusing abusive behavior because they like the perpetrator's politics. And, to make matters worse, one commentator attacks the author. Really?

You're missing the point. This is not some random abuser. This is an elected official who oversees other abusers who are sent to jail. Sheriffs, police officers, doctors, teachers and other people in positions of authority must be held to a higher standard. If this policy were in place, there would be no debate. The Sheriff clearly committed domestic violence under the policy (not NOW's opinion) and must go.

Posted by Guest Grace on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 5:48 am

You forgot to mention Fire Chief.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 10:02 am

And a Police Commissioner.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 10:13 am

I remain puzzled and disturbed that SF advocates urging action on domestic violence have not pushed San Francisco to join in the creation of a Domestic Violence registry similar to the one for sex offenders. It is already underway in neighboring counties but San Francisco has not opted to participate.

The registry is only for those who are convicted, and it provides an option for someone to see if the person they are dating or considering dating is has a conviction for domestic violence. It was brought to my attention by a good friend whose sister was murdered by her ex-partner.

SF also needs a much stronger system for protecting those who have obtained a stay-away or restraining order, especially when it is at the request of the victim.

As to whether restraining a partner constitutes violence, that is an issue that requires context. If a partner were having a nightmare and thrashing around, it might be in their interest to restrain them to keep them from hurting themselves. The same could be true if it was the partner who was hitting out and the act was to restrain them from hitting.

I think we need a culture change on violence generally, including on weapons.

Posted by CitiReport on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 6:52 am

Isn't it like a typical liberal to cite Rush Limbaugh's "slut" comment on Fluke in her letter but ignore the more repugnant comment made by Bill Maher against Sarah Palin, calling her the "c" word. A word, by the way, that is banned on the airwaves? Although Wallace supports the ousting of Mirkarimi, her fellow liberal progressives in this City, especially on the Board of Supervisors, who are suddenly camera-shy and not willing to say anything negative about their fellow socialist comrade, hoping that it will all dissipate with time (and you thought the Code of Silence only existed in the Police Department). If the Mirk was a staunch, career law enforcement type with leanings to the right, all the lefties on the Board and the folks from domestic violence non-profits would be frothing at the mouth, calling the plea bargain a travesty of justice. Mayor Lee would be publicly pressured by the Board to quickly bring on the charges to the Ethics Commission so that the Board could oust the Sheriiff immediately for "public safety" and the "integrity of the department."
Final analysis; Lefties/Progressives=Hypocrites.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 7:39 am

Bill Maher is on cable television. He's an arrogant,talented misogynist. Rush is on the broadcast airwaves. He is an arrogant, talented misogynist. Slut is not a banned word on the broadcast airwaves. The c-word is a banned word on the broadcast airwaves, not on cable.
Rush's bigger problem is with the word "prostitute" which is defamatory of Ms. Fluke.
Bill Maher's attacks on palin are different than Rush's attacks on Ms. Fluke. Ms. Palin always has the bully pulpit to respond . Ms. Fluke does not.

Posted by Guest Christine Craft on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 7:52 am

Trying to remember defamation standards: There is a definitely a different legal standard that applies to public figures like Sarah Palin versus ordinary citizens like Sandra Fluke. You have to show different intentions such as malice when it comes to comments on public figures. Ms. Fluke's standard of proof against Limbaugh may be so low because his public remarks may be considered by the court as slander "per se" (in itself) which merely requires an oral statement to another (and it doesn't have to be more than one person) regarding that person's character (prostitute, thief, has AIDS, for example. There is nothing more that Ms. Fluke may have to prove other than Limbaugh said she is a prostitute. His defense would be to prove that his statement is literally true, that she is actually a prostitute. I certainly invite others to correct me.

South Florida

Posted by Donna on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 8:33 am

Calling someone a slut and a prostitute in my opinion meets the "malice" test easily, let alone "reckless disregard for the truth."

It was also possibly invasion of privacy?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 10:07 am

To clarify, malice is not needed for the ordinary person, only for a public figure like Palin.

Posted by Donna on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 10:18 am

If Limbaugh pled that his speech was 'satire' would that also be an admission that he is a clown?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 10:44 am

Whether Maher or Limbaugh is using it.

And to prove "defamation" one must show damages. As of now, thank God, you don't have a constitutional right to have your "feelings" protected.

I'm a liberal. And as such I believe in people's right to make ridiculous, inane statements about others. That includes Maher's right to make fun of Sarah Palin and Limbaugh's right, however misguided, to call a young woman doing nothing but testifying in front of a congressional committee, a "slut."

Everything wrong with our whole, rotten, wretched political system has been laid bare by this "scandal." We're in the natural end-state of the endless political campaign and of decades of touchy-feely "MEism" which has convinced an already fat and stupefied population to ignore the real, serious issues which impact us as a whole.

It's sickening but unsurprising to see the right join in the virtual witch-burning of Sandra Fluke. It's even worse to see the left do the same thing to Rush Limbaugh and just goes to show you that underneath our oft-stated moral superiority is the same wretchedness, the same desire for control, which underlies people like Rush Limbaugh.

The only answer is separation. And it is coming.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 10:59 am

Progressives are certainly solid behind a no tolerance policy towards domestic violence but are concerned that no tolerance policies only seem to apply to us.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 10:05 am

I respect NOW's efforts, and was active with SF NOW 20 years ago, in the early 1990s. Many of the activists I met there grew-up seeing horrific domestic violence occur in their homes and received no help from law enforcement.

What I would like to see is NOW meeting with the countless women in this city whose kids were murdered. These are mothers who never got justice, whose children were killed by crooks still at large.

When local law enforcement dropped the ball, then-Supervisor Mirkarimi was there to urge them to do their jobs. For that, Mirkarimi was punished.
Does anyone really believe the SFPD normally spends this much, or even any, resources to investigate the cause of a bruised arm?

I know from experience that the answer is NO. I was violently mugged in 1998 in San Francisco. The attacker left me with not one, but TWO BADLY BRUISED ARMS. I reported it immediately, but when I tried to follow-up, a robbery 'detective' REFUSED TO PHOTOGRAPH MY INJURIES or collect other evidence.

There was a murder on my block a week ago. The next morning, I saw reporters and community members at the scene, but no police.

Violence against women is a huge problem. The SF law enforcement community needs to work together to make this city safer. They have a lot of work to do.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 10:11 am

This generation of NOW has completely dropped the ball on educating upcoming generations of women of the importance of defending the gains made by previous generations of women had to fight for by taking risks.

Having been incorporated into the veal pen of the Democratic Party, their activism has been turned into advocacy and in order to be politically relevant, they must sing for their supper.

Thus, in order to retain their relevance, NOW must support the party of the Stupak Amendment, of welfare reform and attack on command any politico who threatens the dominance of the funding arm of the Democratic Party.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 10:43 am

C,mon Ross resign already. It is unbelievable you did not show some backbone and do it at the start

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

C,mon Ross resign already. It is unbelievable you did not show some backbone and do it at the start

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

Weren't James McBride and James Collins who are now sitting Judges, both San Francisco Police Officers that served together at Central Police Station?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 21, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

Oh wait, it wouldn't.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 21, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

I have read the 10 page policy linked from this op-ed. I think the policy is quite good, and should be adopted.

However, the policy does not state what Mona Lisa Wallace claims it does.

The entire document outlines policies and procedures to be followed in response to a domestic violence call. These procedures presume that the call is being made by the victim, which was not the case with Mirkarimi.

Furthermore, the only part of the policy that deals with suspects who are public and/or law enforcement officials is 2.G, and that simply states that an officer of higher rank or supervisor should be dispatched to the scene. Again, this would not apply in the Mirkarimi case, as the call came from a neighbor several days after the alleged incident.

Also, I could find nothing in the policy that "prescribes zero tolerance for domestic violence by police officers."

The policy fails to say anything about what should happen to elected officials found guilty of a domestic violence related charge. Nor does the policy say anything about mandating a stay away order for suspects.

I must add that NONE of the procedures in the policy Wallace links to were followed by police when I was attacked on the streets of San Francisco.

I am hoping to get a meeting with SF NOW. Maybe we can find some real solutions to protect the public safety.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Mar. 25, 2012 @ 6:53 pm