S.F. Police Union Announces Breakdown in Use-of-Force Negotiations

 (Alex Emslie/KQED)

Negotiations between San Francisco officials and the police union over new rules governing officers' use of force have reached an impasse, according to a statement released by Police Officers' Association President Martin Halloran Friday evening.

Halloran cited the new policy's prohibition on shooting at moving vehicles as a "major sticking point" leading to the impasse.

City police commissioners sought to update the Police Department's use of force rules following the fatal officer-involved shooting of Mario Woods in December. The wholesale revision played out in a public process over months, with the commission unanimously passing the new rules in June. But they weren't immediately implemented and instead headed into closed-door negotiations between the city and POA in a process guaranteed by state and local labor laws.

At the time, the union had three major sticking points. The POA was opposed to the ban on shooting at moving vehicles and a similar ban on officers' use of the carotid restraint (or sleeper hold). The union wanted the new policy to include citation of the California Penal Code that authorizes police to use force and states that peace officers do not have a duty to retreat.

But critics said law enforcement agencies around the country were both banning shooting at cars and the carotid restraint. They said including the legal standard for officer use-of-force undermined the new policy's emphasis on de-escalating potentially violent incidents.

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At the time, those disagreements were referred to as "the 20 percent," with roughly 80 percent of the policy in agreement. On Friday, Halloran said, "We agree with the commission on 99.9% percent of the new policy."

"To protect the public, we need a policy that allows police officers to use force under exceptional circumstances," Halloran continued, twice referencing a July 14 attack in Nice, France where a man drove a large truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day, killing 86 people.

Police Commission President Suzy Loftus defended the ban on shooting at moving vehicles Friday evening. She said previous exceptions to an outright ban have "swallowed the rule."

"It is national best practice as a way to protect the public and protect officers," Loftus said. "Even if you hit the driver, you have someone who is behind the wheel of a car, and that presents a public safety risk."

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Police Services (COPS)also strongly recommended an outright ban on shooting at moving vehicles in a damning report on the SFPD released last week.

"We’re now starting to debate about things that are just bad practices," COPS office Director Ron Davis said at a press conference announcing the findings. "The Department of Justice will not waiver in its position on the carotid restraint: It should be prohibited. We will not waiver about shooting at moving vehicles: It should not occur."

Attempts to reach Halloran and other POA officials with knowledge of the bargaining sessions for follow-up questions were unsuccessful.

Police Commission Vice President Julius Turman said he would like to move quickly to bring the policy back to a vote.

"As far as the parts that we were unable to reach agreement on, we are going to implement those as well," he said. He said the POA agreed to phase out the use of the carotid restraint as part of a package offer that would have scrubbed the prohibition on moving vehicles.

"Take 'em all or don't take any," he said, describing the POA's offer. "We were unable to reach agreement on the shooting at cars, and because it was a package, then our June version of the carotid [policy] is what we will implement."

But it's long been a concern of some commissioners and the city's Department of Human Resources that forcing the policy on officers could lead the union to challenge it in court or seek binding arbitration -- processes that could further delay the new use of force rules for months of even years.

"This is a management right," Turman said. "They can certainly seek some type of judicial or arbitration forum and ask as an initial step to halt implementation ... but that's for the POA to decide."

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Turman said the policy could come before the commission as early as next week.

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