Bay Area Police Accountability Measures Draw Strong Support Across the Board

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Police from Hayward roll through Downtown Oakland on May 29, 2020 during a protest over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Bay Area voters delivered strong support to a half-dozen measures that aim to strengthen independent oversight of local law enforcement, many spurred by a national movement demanding police reform.

The local measures come after the California Legislature this summer 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 groups.

Here's a rundown of each of those measures and how they fared on Tuesday:

Oakland: Measure S1

Demonstators and OPD
Demonstrators face a police line on May 29, 2020 in Oakland during protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

More than 80% of Oakland voters approved an effort to boost oversight of the city's police force as of late Tuesday night. Measure S1 — backed unanimously by the Oakland City Council — creates a new independent Office of the Inspector General and increases the authority of both the Oakland Police Commission and the Community Police Review Agency, which investigates complaints of officer misconduct.

The measure allows the commission and CPRA to hire attorneys independently of the city.

The measure also requires Oakland's police chief to respond to the commission's requests for information and allows the City Council to suspend members of the commission for cause.

The independent OIG is tasked with reviewing cases of police misconduct and submitting reports to the Police Commission and the Oakland City Council. It also oversees 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.

"This is such an important issue," City Council President Rebecca Kaplan said late Tuesday night, "that there be a trusted decision maker that isn’t part of the department so that you can build that trust and ensure accountability.”

Changes under Measure S1 touch on several sources of recent controversy in the Oakland Police Department. Former Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, fired in February, has targeted the Police Commission and the court-appointed federal monitor in a lawsuit alleging she was retaliated against for reporting malfeasance by commissioners and disagreeing with the monitor.

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San Francisco: Proposition D

seal of the SF sheriff's department
Proposition D comes in the wake of several high-profile allegations of misconduct in the San Francisco Sheriff's Department. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

San Francisco voters showed up with strong support for independent oversight of the county Sheriff's Department, with more than 67% of ballots counted Tuesday in favor of Proposition D.

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The proposition creates two new bodies to bring independent oversight to the San Francisco County Sheriff's Department. The Office of Inspector General investigates misconduct within the department, and a seven-member oversight board will make policy recommendations regarding department operations, complaints against deputies and in-custody deaths. The sheriff, though, retains authority to determine any discipline against deputies and other staff.

The measure, placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors, comes after major misconduct in the Sheriff's Department. Deputies were criminally charged in 2016 with arranging gladiator-style fights between inmates in San Francisco County Jail. A subsequent botched internal investigation resulted in those charges being dropped.

Last year, the department entered into an agreement allowing the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability to investigate a number existing allegations of misconduct. Proposition D, however, creates an oversight structure for the county that is separate from city Police Department oversight.

As elected officials, California sheriffs have typically seen less civilian oversight than local police departments, which are accountable to mayors and city councils. That may be changing. 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 with subpoena powers.

San Francisco: Proposition E

SFPD chief William Scott
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott listens during a town hall meeting at César Chávez Elementary School in the wake of a December 2019 police shooting in the Mission District. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

Voters in San Francisco were also approving Proposition E with more than 71% in favor as of Wednesday. The measure amends the city charter to scrap a mandatory minimum of 1,971 full-duty sworn police officers.

The proposition requires 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.

In the past, San Francisco would have been in violation of its charter if it fell below the minimum staffing level, which the officers' union charged that it routinely has in opposition to the measure.

The passage of Proposition E allows city leaders — including the mayor, supervisors and the Police Commission — to hire fewer full-duty officers, if they choose to.

The effort aligns with recent proposals from Mayor London Breed and Police Chief Bill Scott that aim to divert responses to some mental health-related issues and other non-violent complaints away from armed police officers.

Berkeley: Measure II

Berkeley police line
Berkeley police officers form a line on Telegraph Avenue during protests in December 2014 following a New York jury's decision not to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. (Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

Berkeley voters were in support of Measure II by a 5-to-1 margin Tuesday, which gives the city the go-ahead to scrap its existing Police Commission and replace it by early 2022 with a nine-member independent oversight body and director. The new Police Accountability Board will have the authority to access internal police records and seek officer testimony, investigate complaints filed by the public and recommend discipline. The board will also advise on the hiring of future police chiefs.

Introduced by a coalition of Berkeley police officials, City Council members and current oversight commissioners, Measure II will also give the public more time to file complaints against police officers and lower the burden of proof in the process of investigating those allegations.

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 it now lacks the authority of oversight bodies in cities like San Francisco.

San Jose: Measure G

Police officers in riot gear block off a street in downtown San Jose on May 29, 2020, in advance of a large protest against police brutality, spurred by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. (Adhiti Bandlamudi/KQED)

San Jose voters were passing Measure G with 78%  yes votes as of Wednesday. It institutes a handful of fairly wide-ranging changes in the city — some unrelated to police accountability — including 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 will expand the review authority of the Independent Police Auditor. The IPA will now be able to review administrative investigations initiated by the Police Department against its officers and gain access to unredacted 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.

Sonoma County: Measure P

A screen shot from body camera video of the Nov. 27 in-custody of death of David Ward shows former Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Charles Blount as he grabs Ward by the head, a few seconds before slamming Ward's face against the car's door frame.
A screenshot from body-camera video of the Nov. 27 police killing of David Glen Ward shows former Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Charles Blount as he grabs Ward by the head, a few seconds before slamming Ward's face against the car's door frame. (Via Sonoma County Sheriff)

A Sonoma County measure seeking to increase power of the county's independent oversight of its Sheriff's Office was leading by wide margin Wednesday night. Over two-thirds of votes counted so far are in favor of the measure that drew strong opposition from the sheriff and deputies' union.

"I’m really hopeful that now that we have this outcome, they’ll shift gears and take the hand that’s been held out to them so we can improve these relationships," said Jerry Threet, former director of Sonoma County's Independent Office of Law Enforcement Outreach and supporter of Measure P.

The measure increases powers and budget of the office, which was created in the years following the 2013 killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez. Backers of the measure say the office known as IOLERO was underfunded from the start and has relied on the voluntary cooperation of the sheriff to provide access and allow for any substantive oversight.

The measure, which was put on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, requires the sheriff to cooperate with investigations and gives IOLERO authority to obtain evidence, contact witnesses and subpoena records. The office would also be able to publish body camera footage on its website and recommend disciplinary actions for officers under investigation.

Measure P also increases funding for the office, requiring that its budget be equal to 1% of the overall sheriff's budget, and prohibits its directors 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 after attempting to put him in a headlock through the driver's side window.

The man, David Glen Ward, who had a disability, subsequently died from his injuries according to coroner's findings, which also found methamphetamine in his system.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick moved to fire Blount, but the deputy was allowed to retire 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.

Measure P was strongly opposed by the sheriff and the union representing its deputies. Its funding provision is expected to be challenged in court.

Alex Emslie and Kate Wolffe of KQED News contributed reporting to this article.

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