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May 26, 2006
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San Francisco commissioner slams police panel

Susan Sward, Chronicle Staff Writer
Copyright 2006 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
All Rights Reserved

San Francisco's leaders are failing to push for reforms of the city's Police Department at a time when the homicide rate is rising, department staff size is falling and officer morale is nearing an all-time low, a key member of the police commission says.

Commission Vice President Theresa Sparks, named to her post two years ago by the Board of Supervisors, made her remarks at the Wednesday night police commission meeting while explaining why she would not support the re-election of Louise Renne for another year as panel president.

The commission later voted 5-1, with Sparks casting the dissenting vote, to continue Renne's leadership and install commissioner David Campos as vice president after Sparks declined to take that post again.

Sparks said the commission had failed to reach out to Mayor Gavin Newsom, the Board of Supervisors and the community to facilitate talks among them over how to live up to the mandate of a 2003 voter-approved ballot measure aimed at reforming the department.

That measure, Proposition H, won approval after reports by the city controller and the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the department on many grounds, including its failure to adequately identify problem officers. The proposition gave the Board of Supervisors the power to name three of the seven members of the police commission, which previously had all been mayoral appointees.

Under the City Charter, the commission is assigned to oversee the department and impose discipline on officers, but in recent decades much of the real power in the department has been wielded by the mayor's office and the Police Officers Association, which represents most rank-and-file officers.

"In my opinion, the commission has failed the framers of Prop. H and the citizens of San Francisco in that the promise of Prop. H was that things would be different and not continue the way they had been for many, many years,'' Sparks said.

She added that this absence of leadership comes at a crucial time when the city's "homicides have continued to reach new highs, staffing levels have plummeted and morale is approaching a new low in the department.''

At the same time, she said Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Board of Supervisors have "no shared vision of what a 21st century department should be.''

She added that Newsom's office has announced it will not support money in the upcoming 2006-2007 budget to increase the police commission staff, which now includes one sergeant and a clerk. Sparks, along with the ACLU and other groups, have said the commission will remain incapable of real oversight of the department until it is given an independent staff to help it evaluate policies.

Renne, who was named to the commission by Newsom and has been much less critical of the department than Sparks, praised Sparks for making some "very excellent points'' and said she realized that the commission has "a lot more to do.'' Sparks emphasized that, despite her criticism, she liked and respected Renne.

Commissioner Joe Veronese, another Newsom appointee, seconded Sparks' analysis, saying, "We haven't got a lot done.'' Campos said Sparks' remarks should become a guidepost for the commission as it goes forward.

Since the new commission began operating in 2004, it has required increased reporting from both the department and the Office of Citizen Complaints, the civilian agency that investigates misconduct by officers alleged by members of the public.

The commission also revamped regulations covering officer-involved shootings with an eye toward strengthening the post-shooting review process.

Last year it also fired an officer for lying in his report after he broke a protester's arm. It was only the fifth firing of an officer in the last 10 years.

But Sparks said the commission has not done enough and should be "leading the discussion of what the department needs to do to become a model of best practices now and in the future.''

Peter Ragone, Newsom's press secretary, said "the mayor and Chief (Heather) Fong have made solid progress in our effort to bring the department into the 21st century as evidenced by the plans to hire more officers, modernize the department's record-keeping system and put in place an innovative early intervention system to monitor police performance.'' 

Full story: San Francisco commissioner slams police panel






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