SF Police Officers Assoc.: ‘We’d sign off on USDOJ reforms tomorrow!’ in exchange for pay raises

This frame is from a video taken by a bus passenger only a moment before an SFPD “firing squad” executed Mario Woods, a young man in a mental health crisis who had no weapon but a small knife, on Dec. 2, 2015, on Third Street in Bayview Hunters Point. Incessant protests against this and a string of other police murders that included the occupation of City Hall by hundreds of people succeeded in the forced resignation of the police chief and an investigation culminating in 272 recommendations made in 2016 by USDOJ COPS (US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Police Services).

by John Crew

John Crew, retired director of the ACLU’s Police Practices Project, wrote this “next steps” advisory to activists following the 9-2 vote on Tuesday, Nov. 17, by the Board of Supervisors in favor of a new contract with the San Francisco Police Officers Association. The final vote is scheduled for Dec. 1 or 8:

Some of the supervisors voting “yes” on the first vote on the SFPOA contract said that they might change their votes if the City has not obtained concessions from the SFPOA by the time they cast their second and final vote, be it on Dec. 1 or if they put off that vote until Dec 8. That would still be enough time to approve a deal and still realize all the short-term cost savings from the deferred 2 percent pay raise otherwise set to kick in Jan. 1. 

I decided to take them at their word and make another pitch that they join their colleagues, Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen, and do the right thing. I’m forwarding that email here [see excerpts below] in case you want to echo any of my arguments or join me in pointing out again to them what should be completely obvious by now – namely, that nothing that has been claimed in the effort to win approval for this dirty deal has proven to be true.

No, the SFPOA has not turned over a new leaf and will now be cooperative with reform efforts from here on out. They will revert to being as aggressively resistant to change, accountability and transparency as they ever were as soon as they get their two 3 percent pay raises.

No, the Board of Supervisors is not powerless to get a better deal than the bad one they’ve been presented so far. They have enormous leverage, as shown yesterday by the SFPOA’s palpable desperation – “We’d sign off on USDOJ reforms tomorrow!” – to get quick approval on the 3 percent pay raises. That statement betrays their complete lack of confidence that they could get that sort of unconditional raises out of an arbitrator in this economic environment.

No, the Mayor will not lay off other city workers if the Board doesn’t give the SFPOA exactly what they want and when they want it. She won’t – and politically she can’t anymore – do that after her representative said on the record yesterday that the Mayor’s Office had not threatened and would not lay off other employees as a consequence of the Board’s possible rejection of this deal. Thank you, Dean Preston!

No, labor will not rise up in opposition to the Board trying to get a better deal out of the SFPOA. With the rumored threat to other city workers now politically neutralized … in public … by the Mayor’s Office directly, the only public argument SF Labor Council’s Rudy Gonzalez made against the board trying to do better is now gone. 

No, time has not run out … at all. There is plenty of time to get a better deal without any or with only relatively minimal adverse short-term fiscal consequences.

No, failure to approve this deal before the 2 percent deferred pay raises kick in Jan. 1 would not “blow a hole” in the City budget. Worst case scenario, it would be a mere pinprick, relatively speaking, of $7.1 million (1 percent of SFPD’s total annual budget of $700 million) and it will only be that much if they don’t ever approve a new deal with those deferrals included. 

They could take another whole month or six weeks to get this right and the City would still realize $5.9 million in savings (creating a $1.2 million budget “hole) … or another two months and still keep $4.7 million (creating a $2.4 million “hole”). The economic justification for quick adoption of this sweetheart deal is a complete fantasy with the alleged savings and their impact wildly exaggerated and the big $22.2 million price tag coming due in FY 2022-‘23 nearly completely ignored by the hard sell to win approval. 

At City Hall on Dec. 9, 2015, a week after Mario Woods’ execution, protestors fill the hall outside the Police Commission hearing and overflow rooms. – Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez, New York Times, AP

No, it’s not at all illegal to include meet and confer and arbitration or other reform concessions in a negotiated contract with the SFPOA. Those sorts of concessions on other topics are already in the SFPOA contract and the arbitrator and DHR vouched in writing for their legality and appropriateness in the 2018 SFPOA arbitration decision.

No, it will not be possible for individual supervisors to credibly claim they are in favor of SFPD reform or transformation if they vote to approve this deal instead of using the leverage they obviously have to condition any new SFPOA pay raises on concessions from SFPOA on reform. The supervisors who vote in favor of this contract will speak those words, but those words should henceforth be understood as the San Francisco version of “thoughts and prayers.” 

Most of the public discussion at City Hall around this topic has been phrased in “reform” rather than “transforming and re-imagining public safety” and “defund and re-invest” terms. But nothing meaningful on any of those topics can be achieved if the Board of Supervisors won’t even stand up to the SFPOA on something that they already claim to care deeply about, namely SFPD reform. 

Regardless of the short term outcome, I think this has been a battle well worth fighting because, in the end, it will clearly identify which supervisors care enough about these issues to cast votes to advance them and which of them still respond “how high?” when the SFPOA or Mayor say “jump!”

John Crew’s Nov. 18 email to the SF Board of Supervisors 

Supervisors,

Tony Montoya has been president of the SFPOA for two and a half years. Rocky Lucia has been their lawyer since March. Both have well-established track records that show the idea that the SFPOA has turned over a new leaf substantively – as opposed to merely rhetorically – under their leadership and counsel is wishful thinking in the extreme. I reviewed part of those track records last week for Supervisor Peskin in the email I am now forwarding to all of you here. 

Prior to Dec. 1, you can accomplish this through a legally binding written agreement wherein the SFPOA would: 

Ignore those track records if you like, but consider what both Chief Scott and Tony Montoya told the full board yesterday. They both put the starting point of this allegedly new and improved, reform-friendly relationship at about four or five months ago – June or July – exactly when, at Mayor Breed’s direction and per her testimony to the GAO Committee, DHR’s Carol Isen started to secretly negotiate this proposed contract with the SFPOA. 

Its status quo non-economic terms and two 3 percent raises are unconditioned by any reform concessions. Sgt. Montoya showed you yesterday just how much he wants you to approve those 3 percent pay raises. All of this confirms what I reminded Supervisor Peskin of last week: 

“Pretty much the only time the SFPOA behaves relatively more reasonably is when contract talks are underway or approval of a deal they very much want – because they’re not going to get 3 percent raises out of an arbitrator in this fiscal environment – is pending. That’s why much of the rest of the country has already embraced the need to use the leverage that exists only when contracts with police bargaining units are being renegotiated to seek changes in the non-economic terms that are so clearly needed to bring about the sorts of reforms, accountability and transparency the general public – at least in urban areas – overwhelmingly demands and deserves and yet that police are still, in 2020, able to block or delay. 

On Dec. 11, 2015, San Francisco youth marched out of their classrooms to City Hall to protest the SFPD murder of Mario Woods. Whenever a young person is murdered by police, others ask, “Am I next?” Supervisors must remember the demands by San Francisco youth as they decide how to vote on the SFPOA contract. Each supervisor must decide whether campaign contributions from the police union trump the demands of San Francisco youth for justice from SFPD. – Photo: Paulette Justice 

“Why would San Francisco – of all places – buck this trend by approving a “no concessions” sweetheart deal awarding them two more pay raises? We’ve led the way on broader criminal justice reforms. Why would we continue to lag behind on police reform?”

More importantly, consider what Sgt. Montoya told the full board yesterday: “There is really no objection to any of those 272 recommendations made in 2016 by USDOJ COPS (US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Police Services). We’d be willing to sign off on many of them tomorrow if it was put before us to do that.”

Put it in writing

While the second vote on their deal is pending, you have a two-week opportunity to test Sgt. Montoya’s sincerity and to establish whether an allegedly “reformed” SFPOA is now really pro-reform. Why not simply take Sgt. Montoya at his word and ask him to put it in writing – to literally sign off – on the 272 reforms? 

Prior to Dec. 1, you can accomplish this through a legally binding written agreement wherein the SFPOA would: 

(1) waive any rights to meet and confer and interest arbitration over policies implementing any of the remaining 272 USDOJ COPS reforms, which have been pending for more than four years; and,

(2) waive any rights to meet and confer and interest arbitration over Supervisor Ronen’s planned legislation aimed at greater transparency over collective bargaining with the SFPOA.

This vote is unavoidably about police reform

Your vote on this contract is a test of your commitment to police reform. If you have a deal in place by Dec. 1 that actually includes appropriate reform concessions – rather that rely on the blind hope that an allegedly more cooperative SFPOA will continue to be more cooperative even after you’ve given them the 3 percent unconditional pay raises they want – you should approve it. 

If you don’t, you should continue that vote until Dec. 8. And if you still don’t have it by then, you should, in effect, spend $1.2 million for one month of non-deferred 2 percent pay raises in the pursuit of getting something of value from the SFPOA for their 3 percent raises, which will start costing the City $22.2 million in FY 2022-23. 

You have the time. You have leverage that you won’t have later. The only remaining question is whether you have the commitment and willingness to use them.

John Crew, retired director of the ACLU’s Police Practices Project, can be reached at johnmikecrew@gmail.com.