S.F. Measure Expanding Civilian Police Oversight Gets Huge Voter Support

The scene of the fatal San Francisco police shooting of Luis Gongora near Shotwell and 18th streets on April 7. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

The scene of the fatal San Francisco police shooting of Luis Gongora near Shotwell and 18th streets on April 7.
(Alex Emslie/KQED)

By Alex Emslie
KQED

A San Francisco ballot measure mandating a civilian layer to police shooting investigations looks to be passing, according to the city’s preliminary vote count.

Voters in favor of Proposition D’s automatic investigations by the Office of Citizen Complaints — following any officer-involved shooting resulting in death or serious injury — outnumbered those opposed 4-1 in early results released by the San Francisco Department of Elections as of 11 p.m. Tuesday night.

“San Francisco has spoken,” said the measure’s author, Supervisor Malia Cohen. “San Francisco has asked for accountability and transparency, and that’s exactly what they’re going to get.”

Until now, the OCC has investigated only when the office received a complaint, a practice that over the past five years resulted in civilian probes of just eight out of 35 SFPD shootings.

“Most people didn’t realize that unless there’s a request, the Office of Citizen Complaints doesn’t investigate an officer-involved shooting,” said Board of Supervisors President London Breed. She, along with every other supervisor, supported Prop. D. “I think this is long overdue, and I’m really happy that the voters see that.”

OCC investigators look for breaches of department protocol, and the office can recommend disciplining officers who break the rules. Its shooting investigations are in addition to criminal probes by the Police Department’s homicide division and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. SFPD’s internal affairs division also conducts an administrative investigation, per department protocol.

Police accountability groups and some former OCC staff have criticized the office for not pursuing less serious cases aggressively enough. The office found no official fault and recommended no discipline in six of the cases it investigated since late 2010. Two additional cases initiated in the past five years are still pending.

Cohen says expanding the OCC’s role in shooting investigations is just one small piece of a broader effort to change a city Police Department that’s seen increasing scrutiny following several high-profile deadly shootings, multiple racist scandals and extreme racial disparities in arrest rates.

“Proposition D is like the little engine that could, very small shoestring budget, but incredible hope and incredible potential to really be that driving force to change the way we talk about officer-involved shootings, to change the way we investigate them,” she said. “This victory tonight is going to give us the momentum to go into the fall and to continue to push between now and November a whole other slew of reforms.”

Cohen recently introduced another measure that would change the OCC’s funding structure — removing it from the Police Department’s budget and the Police Commission’s control — and give it auditing power. She’s also pushing another measure that would create a new wing of the district attorney’s office to lead investigations in officer-involved shootings. Both propositions could go before voters in the November general election, pending Board of Supervisors approval.

“The reform that I’m working toward is huge, and it requires changes to the charter,” Cohen said. “The victory of Proposition D has been electrifying, and I’m excited.”

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