To: San Francisco Police Commission, President Malia Cohen, Vice President Cindy Elias, Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone, Commissioner Larry Yee, Commissioner John Hamasaki, Commissioner James Byrne, and Commissioner Jesús Gabriel Yáñez
We write to register our opposition to the termination of the police use of force Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and to support the renegotiation of the MOU. Based on recent news articles, it is our understanding that an agreement to renegotiate the MOU has been reached between all parties. However, there are still two large concerns looming: (1) whether the existing MOU will lapse before the negotiations are complete and (2) whether the renegotiated MOU will weaken the provisions related to the independence of investigations.
Nationally, fatal police shootings were the highest they have been since tracking started in 20151. Our nation continues to struggle with the reality that over 1,000 people are killed by police each year and, even after massive civil rights demonstrations gripped our nation and rippled across the globe, there are still few solutions enacted to solve the problem of police use of force. It is very troubling to think that as so many communities grapple with how to get this problem under control, San Francisco, with a model approach, was considering terminating this MOU.
With the creation of the Independent Investigations Bureau in the District Attorney’s Office and
after the signing of a MOU between the Bureau and the SFPD, the city saw dramatic results. The city went from six fatal police shootings in 2015 to zero in 2019, the year the MOU went into effect. Indeed, San Francisco experienced the longest break between police shootings during these years, going nearly two years without a fatal shooting by a police officer.
This agreement MUST be kept in place while the renegotiation takes place. It took three years to get the existing MOU in place. It is unclear how long it will take to resolve the current disagreements and the city should not slide back to the old way of handling these critical investigations. The Police Commission has the authority to direct the SFPD to adhere to the MOU while renegotiations are occurring. We urge you to do so.
In addition to keeping the existing MOU in effect while the negotiations proceed, we encourage the Police Commission to take an active role in monitoring the negotiations. It will be critical to ensure the process moves along quickly and that the final renegotiated MOU resolution does not weaken the provisions related to the independence of investigations. Finalization of the initial MOU was quite protracted; however, it was just recently renewed. Given the expressed sentiments of all parties to negotiate in good faith, the current concerns raised about information sharing are narrow and should be able to be resolved in an expeditious and streamlined fashion.
We truly appreciate the clarity the Commission brought to this issue at the hearing last week. Your ongoing leadership will help ensure that there is not a lapse out of the current MOU and that whatever changes are made will not weaken this critically important and model policy.
Color of Change
Ella Baker Center
Young Women’s Freedom Center
Grassroots Law Project