Monday, June 25, 2007

San Francisco Police Story

There is something very wrong with the San Francisco Police Department at the present moment, and I don't have a clue as to the real reasons.

However, just about every person I know in San Francisco, of all political stripes, feels the same way and that opinion is reaching some kind of critical mass, which the police department and the politicians are ignoring at their own peril.

At the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, in the streetcar mess in the middle, a policeman had stopped a street musician who was drumming on plastic pails in a brilliantly entertaining manner that was not only skillful but charming, and there were a score of people watching him. (And damn you, Willie Brown, for not putting the effing cars underground as somebody proposed at the time this area was being redone, so there would now be a real public pedestrian plaza.)

The crowd started to boo the cop and I heard people muttering, "why the hell don't you go find a real criminal?"

In San Francisco, it feels like the cops have become full-time goldbrickers who only show their faces during large public gatherings, where they mostly ignore the public and create their own little bubbles of privacy.

There's a "Memorandum of Understanding" before the Board of Supervisors currently up for a new contract with the police department that includes an outrageous 24.5% raise and a whole bunch of other goodies and the entire deal is being slipped under the radar. On Tuesday morning at 10AM there is a Public Safety Committee meeting in Room 263 where the MOU, as the acronym goes, is going to be discussed.

In front of my apartment building, a block away from City Hall, we are greeted every morning by the sparkly, beautiful sight of broken glass on the sidewalk from car break-ins overnight. If there are nightly car break-ins, it would seem wise to possibly have a police stakeout in the neighborhood, but to my knowledge that has never been done. In fact, I recently watched a mugging in front of the San Francisco School Board building across the street while a police car drove slowly by, completely oblivious.

My friend Marc Salomon has sent out the following political analysis, and it pretty much says it all. Do read if you're interested.

1. The MOU includes a 24.5% raise over 4 years based on performance. There are no objective standards for performance nor are there prohibitions on giving officers with past records of discipline and legal settlements big raises. This rewards bad cops as well as good cops.

2. The MOU carries forth language from the previous agreement which allows the POA to call for contract renegotiation whenever the Police Commission changes the departmental general orders. That language should be restricted to only requiring "meet and confer" in the cases mandated by state law, no more.

3. The MOU offers up $20,000 gifts to officers for down payments on homes in San Francisco. We all want cops to live in the City, but no other down payment assistance programs in the City offer up grants rather loans to be repaid upon sale of the dwelling. The MOU should offer loans of twice as much, $40,000 to facilitate officers to move to the City. Let's save the gifts for the City's lowest paid workers, not the highest.

4. The MOU current runs for four years, being renegotiated during mayoral election season. The current MOU was one of Willie Brown's last acts as mayor. The MOU should be slated to be renegotiated during a year when the Mayor and Supervisors are not on the ballot. This MOU should run for 2 years and for four years subsequently after that.

5. The MOU needs to include language which requires the officers to seek and receive affirmative civilian permission to cooperate with the state and federal government law enforcement agencies such as the Interagency Task Force in prosecuting federal and state marijuana and immigration laws.

6. The MOU claims that the reason why the SFPD cannot recruit cops is because of low pay but this ignores the fact that the department is in turmoil, its reputation precedes it, and that is a reason as much as money for poor recruitment and retention.

7. The MOU needs to include language which creates two career paths based on where the officer lives. While resident in San Francisco, advancement would be faster, while living outside the city, advancement would be slower.

8. There has not been budget analysis on the impacts of a 24.5% raise on the liability of the City retirement fund in the out years. Officers retire making 90% of their last salary. How does this impact revenues and expenditures in the "out years?"


sfwillie said...

Nice post, Mike.

The kind of "culture change" needed in SFPD is mirrored in other (all?) institutions in our society.

Rank and file cops, like most workers, do what, and as much as, they're told (give or take).

My touchstone is the Lester Garnier case--more than you want to know about SFPD.

janinsanfran said...

Back in 2003, in an exchange with a Chron reporter who did one of their periodic investigations of SFPD disfunction, my correspondent suggested: "I once had a theory that there was a family tree of misconduct in the SFPD... [details of a contemporary case omitted here] So far, I have seen no evidence that that theory is inaccurate." That seems about right.

Most cops just go along to get along. Some cops, a lot of whom rise to the top, have a whole slew of anti-social agendas that sometimes include mistreatment of civilians. But there almost certainly has been more to this than just a string of bullying cowboys in the SFPD.

Anonymous said...

well its great that u guys have all the answers. gee i guess that 30,000 felony arrests a year, 100 thousand + 911 calls for service, 3 cops killed in the line of duty in the last 2 years (2 shot, 1 run over by a stolen car)and the countless emergencies that cops deal with in a city where the nuts run the streets 24-7, the district attorney's office and the courts that don't actually send anybody to jail (hence all the broken car windows) don't have anything to do with it. take a look at the arrest sheet of your average car burglar and u will fall over your laptop and latte in horror, 30 40 arrests probation after probation sentences but no real punishment. i grew up in s.f. (i know anybody posting here did'nt) it did'nt use to be this way. cops are easy and fashionalble to bash but its the lazy, p.c. way to look at the problems with crimw and punishment in this city

sfmike said...

Dear anonymous: I don't drink lattes and do give me a break with the holy "born and raised status" in San Francisco. It just means you didn't have the courage or sense to go on an adventure anywhere else as far as I'm concerned, which is pretty much the definition of a provincial fool.

But you obviously know something about the current problems with crime and civility in San Francisco that I don't know, so please elaborate instead of getting on a soapbox about "liberals" and "outsiders." I really don't know where the actual problems lie, I can only guess.

By the way, one of my guesses is that the "outsiders" like myself are not the problem. It's the old gangsters in this town that really don't care about anybody but a very, very narrow sector of the population, and guess what, neither one of us are part of it, except on the most peripheral level.

Anonymous said...

why waste the energy? u are just another carpet bagger from some East Coast nowhere suburb who shows up and moves into a major u.s. city urban core and can't believe crime is committed right in front of your face. here's a question for u. when u saw the mugging did u bother to call 911, maybe tail the crook at a distance while on the phone to 911, maybe help the victim, testify in court?. let me guess, no. too busy thinking about what to write in your blog. u want to take a crack at the real problems in the criminal justice system in s.f.? S.F. has by the far the lowest rate of inmates committed to the CA. state penal system by county population. where do think those criminals are while u are writing this? u guessed it, mugging citizens in front of your building and breaking into your neighbors car. does everybody deserve to get arrested, sent to prison?, no but when the cops arrest the same people over and over again doing the same crimes in the same places and the response by the powers that be is to make excuses for them, it gets tiring. the real scandle in the city are the dozens of so called social programs set up to fill seats (drug rehab, domestic violence, juvenile offenders etc) all the while getting funded by the number bodies placed there by the D.A.'S and judges. Do u know that the S.F. probation dept. makes no effort at ALL to find out if somebody released to these programs (or just let out) actually lives in the residence they write down when they are released? u think that might be important to supervise somebody who committed a crime and instead of being in jail is out and about? Don't get me wrong, programs that really help people are great and should be alternatives to jail IF THEY WORK AND ARE NOT SOME SCAM sucking taxpayer dollars away and setting criminals free to victimize citizens. But hey I get it, the cops are the bad guys nobody has to break a sweat to slam them. of course you will still call em if u need em and guess what, they will show up and do what they can even if they are making 96,000 a year. BTW, a perfect example of this problem is the kid let out juvenile hall last week (for a tiny little crime of ROBBERY)who goes and kills another kid a day later on San Bruno Ave. I hate to break it to u but that is not a random occurence, more like par for the course.

sfmike said...

Dear anonymous: I was with you until the "do what they can even if they are making 96,000 a year." I live in San Francisco making about $40,000 a year so I do hope you were being ironic.

As for the mugging story, I saw it from my living room window four stories up, and it was truly horrifying in a Hitchcock movie kind of way. "Hey, hey," I did yell out the window, "Look over there!" as three 13-year-old black kids pummeled a middle-aged white guy right in front of a cruising police car who Didn't Bother Looking Out Their Own Fucking Car Window. So spare me the hardworking cop stories, please.

And as far as my provenance, I am as California as they come, born in Santa Monica, with Midwestern relatives in the San Joaquin Valley and other relatives dispersed all over this state. I'm the San Francisco Representative, and you better you get used to it.

Anonymous said...

sorry, one more thing. that cop u show on your blog? the one wasting tax payer dollars busting bongo drummers on a nice summer day when he's not out idling the hours away doing nothing "better", likes to chase machine gun toting thugs thru the housing projects in the middle of the night after said thugs shot up several of their peers. awarded a dept medal of valor for his efforts I might add

Anonymous said...

yelling hey hey out your window that sounds about right. u are truly a "San Francisco Representative" Yikes

sfmike said...

Dear anonymous: I'm from Southern California originally which was/is genuinely a fascist police state, and the San Francisco Police Department has always struck me as a much saner, more human group of people. And that particular policeman who was harassing the bongo drummer I actually felt sorry for. He didn't look like a personal, steroided out jerk. This was the job he'd been sent to do, but it was a crappy one.

So let me tell you the punchline. I came back across the plaza forty minutes later and the drummer was still there so the medal of valor dude either backed down or some other accommodation was made. And that made me happy.

What I'm trying to get at is there's something wrong with the leadership at all levels of San Francisco city government right now, and I don't know the reason and I don't have the answer, but it feels like a really bad hangover from the Willie Brown era, and it's starting to rot. That's all I'm trying to point out.

Anonymous said...

well i can't argue with u over that, i could'nt agree with u more. and i'll give u props on 2 counts, 1- u did more than most when u saw a fellow citizen in need. maybe next time pick up the phone and get those lazy ass cops to actually earn their 100 g's 2-if u can live in s.f. for 40,000 maybe u should be mayor. i'd vote for u

sfmike said...

Dear anonymous: Thanks for the kind words and also for hanging out here. And by the way, the mugging was over so quickly that there was absolutely no point in calling anyone. The kids were long gone. What was shocking was to see the symbol of authority gliding by completely oblivious while it was happening. It was scary.

Jeff said...

hey, I got one for ya. a real mugging/ assault caught on video yesterday on 6th..Not too far away from SFmike

nice post btw. Not really sure if the pay is the sole problem. More like priorities maybe

Anonymous said...

Dude... next time you witness a mugging, take photos of the muggers out your window and call 911. If you don't, then get off your soapbox for good. Those kids got away with it because of you, not because of the cops who weren't looking the right way at the right time.