Demonstrators fill Broadway near Oakland Police Department headquarters on May 29, 2020 during a protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a multitude of other Black people in America have sparked nationwide — and international — protests this year, with calls for sweeping reforms: from defunding entire police departments to strengthening civilian oversight of them.
In the Bay Area alone, at least six measures on local ballots seek to expand the authority of police commissions and strengthen independent investigations.
The measures go before voters just two months after the California Legislature failed to pass several major statewide police accountability bills — including one to remove police officers who commit serious misconduct — after facing strong opposition from law enforcement group.
Measure S1 would strengthen oversight of Oakland's police force by creating a new Office of the Inspector General (OIG), independent from the Police Department, and increasing the authority of both the Oakland Police Commission and the Community Police Review Agency (CPRA) — both of which conduct investigations into police misconduct.
Under the measure, the commission — which voters approved in 2016 (Measure LL) — would operate independently from the city administration. Both it and the CPRA could hire their own attorneys, be able to more quickly conduct investigations into police misconduct and may more readily release their findings to the public.
The measure would also require Oakland's police chief to respond to the commission's requests for information.
If the measure passes, the new independent OIG would be tasked with reviewing cases of police misconduct and submitting reports to the police commission and the Oakland City Council. It would also oversee compliance with a 2003 settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit — known as the Riders case — when the city and Police Department entered into an agreement to address serious allegations of police misconduct.
Under the settlement, which the city has yet to fully comply with, the department was placed under ongoing federal oversight and required to implement a series of reforms, including improved police training and supervision, better systems for identifying inappropriate police behavior and increased public access to the complaint process.
The measure is backed unanimously by the Oakland City Council and the California Democratic Party, with no official opponents listed.
Proposition D would create two new oversight bodies for the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department: the Office of Inspector General (OIG), which would investigate misconduct within the department, and an oversight board. The seven-member board — four of whom would be appointed by the Board of Supervisors and three by the mayor — would make policy recommendations to the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors regarding department operations, complaints against deputies and in-custody deaths. However, the sheriff would retain the authority to determine any disciplinary actions against deputies and other departmental staff.
The measure, placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors, comes in the wake of several high-profile allegations of misconduct in the Sheriff's Department. Most notably, sheriff's deputies were accused in 2016 of arranging gladiator-style fights between inmates in San Francisco County Jail. A subsequent botched internal investigation resulted in those charges being dropped. And last year, the department entered into an agreement allowing the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability to investigate a number existing allegations of misconduct.
San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto has come out opposing the investigation portion of the measure, saying it would create a redundant "wasteful bureaucracy" that overlaps with the independent investigations into his department already in progress.
In California, the county sheriff is an elected position whose role is largely defined in the state Constitution. Sheriff's departments operate independently of policies that govern local police departments, and are authorized to carry out their own investigations into misconduct. Because county officials don't have the same authority over them that mayors and city councils have over appointed police chiefs, oversight of sheriff's departments has traditionally been limited.
But in recent years, as more cases of potential misconduct within individual sheriff's departments have come to light, a small but growing number of counties have established oversight agencies to investigate those allegations. Additionally, Assembly Bill 1185, which Gov. Gavin Newsom approved last month, codifies every county's ability to establish a sheriff oversight board and inspector general's office, both with subpoena powers.
Proposition E would amend the city charter to scrap the mandatory minimum staffing number for full-duty sworn police officers in San Francisco, and require the department to submit a report and recommendation for police staffing levels every two years to the Police Commission. The commission would then have to consider the report when approving the department's budget.
Currently, San Francisco would be in violation of its charter if it fell below the minimum staffing level of 1,971 full-duty officers, a number established several decades ago. Proponents of the new measure say that staffing mandate is arbitrary and antiquated.
The measure would ultimately allow city leaders — including the mayor, supervisors and the Police Commission — to hire fewer full-duty officers. The effort aligns with some of the recent reforms pushed by Mayor London Breed and Police Chief Bill Scott to divert responses to some mental health-related issues and other non-violent complaints away from the Police Department.
The San Francisco Police Officers Association opposes this measure, arguing that the city has not consistently met the minimum staffing requirements, leaving the department perennially understaffed.
Berkeley was an early adopter of civilian police oversight. Its current Police Review Commission was established in 1973, long before most other cities had even considered such entities. But some Berkeley residents and city leaders say the commission has become antiquated, and lacks the authority of oversight bodies in cities like San Francisco.
Measure II would replace the existing commission by early 2022 with a nine-member independent body and director called the Police Accountability Board, with increased oversight of the Berkeley Police Department's policies and practices. The measure would create a new process to investigate and review allegations of police misconduct, giving the board authority to obtain access to police records and officer testimony, investigate complaints filed by members of the public against sworn officers and recommend disciplinary action. The board would also advise on the hiring of future police chiefs.
The measure, which was introduced by a coalition of Berkeley police officials, City Council members and current oversight commissioners, would also give the public more time to file complaints against police officers and lower the burden of proof in the process investigating those allegations.
Measure II is endorsed by local chapters of the NAACP, ACLU and National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. No one has submitted a formal argument opposing the measure.
Placed on the ballot by the City Council, Measure G would amend the city charter to institute a handful of fairly wide-ranging changes — some not directly related to police accountability — which include changing the size of the Planning Commission and allowing the council to establish different timelines for redistricting if U.S. Census results arrive late.
Concerning police oversight, Measure G would expand the review authority of the Independent Police Auditor (IPA). Currently, the IPA reviews police department investigations of complaints against police officers and makes recommendations regarding police department policies and procedures, but lacks access to key pieces of evidence in those investigations.
Under the measure, the IPA could review administrative investigations initiated by the police department against its officers and would gain access to un-redacted records related to police shootings and other serious use-of-force incidents.
The measure comes as the San Jose Police Department is being sued for its officers’ use of tear gas and projectiles against mostly peaceful demonstrators during the George Floyd protests in the city in late May and early June.
A scandal also erupted this summer when a blogger exposed that current and former San Jose police officers swapped bigoted messages in a Facebook group, prompting the department to place four officers on leave. The Santa Clara County district attorney has since announced plans to dismiss charges in 14 criminal cases tainted by those officers' involvement.
Measure P, put on the ballot in a unanimous vote by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, would increase the powers of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO). That office was created in the years following the controversial 2013 killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez. Proponents of the new measure say the office was underfunded and has relied on the voluntary cooperation of the sheriff to provide access to records and allow for any substantive oversight.
The measure would require the sheriff to cooperate with investigations and give the office authority to obtain evidence, contact witnesses and subpoena records, as well as to publish body camera footage on its website and recommend disciplinary actions for officers under investigation. The measure would also guarantee funding for the office, requiring that its budget be equal to 1% of the overall sheriff's budget, and prohibit its director's from being removed unless approved by a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors.
The measure comes a year after former Sheriff's Deputy Charles Blount, who had a history of misusing neck holds was caught on body camera video slamming a man's head into a car door frame following a chase, and attempting to put him in a neck hold through the driver's side window.
The man, David Glen Ward, who had a disability, subsequently died from his injuries according to the coroner's findings, which also noted finding methamphetamine in his system. The sheriff was required under a recent state law to release body camera video from the incident, and said at the time he was moving to fire Blount. But Blount retired before he was officially disciplined and is now presumably collecting a pension. A criminal investigation into Ward's death took months to complete and the Sonoma County district attorney has yet to make a charging decision in the case.
The sheriff and the union representing its deputies oppose the measure, comparing it with efforts to defund police departments while contending that county supervisors violated state labor laws by placing it on the November ballot before conferring with the union.
However, supporters of the measure dispute that argument, noting that IOLERO is supported by the county's general fund, and the measure in no way reduces funding to the sheriff's office.
KQED's Alex Emslie contributed reporting to this article.
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