Tipping point

Battle for a Police Commission appointment reflects ongoing problems in the department

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sarah@sfbg.com

On June 14, members of the Board of Supervisors will vote to appoint a new member of the Police Commission — in the wake of a messy string of alleged police misconduct scandals that, progressives argue, underscore why having strong civilian oversight is critical to ensuring a transparent, accountable police department the public can trust.

The appointment comes less than two months after San Francisco native Greg Suhr was sworn in as chief in the wake of Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision to appoint former Chief George Gascón as the next district attorney — a move that has served to muddy the D.A. Office's efforts to investigate the alleged police misconduct.

Further complicating the board's choice is the heated battle that erupted over the appointment, led in part by members of two Democratic clubs that represent lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.

The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club has officially endorsed Julius Turman, a gay attorney and community activist who was a former assistant U.S. attorney and the first African American president of the Alice club. Turman currently works for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where he represents companies in actions for wrongful termination, employment discrimination, and unfair competition. He is also state Sen. Mark Leno's (D-SF) proxy to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and serves on the Human Rights Commission.

On the other side, members of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the voice of the city's queer left, are supporting David Waggoner, an attorney and community activist who is a former Milk Club president. Waggoner has worked on police use-of-force policy and as a pro bono attorney for the National Lawyers Guild at the Oakland Citizen's Police Review Board, and been a passionate advocate for the LGBT community, immigrants' rights, people with disabilities, and the homeless.

The other two applicants for the post are Vanessa Jackson, a staffer at a women's shelter with experience in counseling ex-offenders; and Phillip Hogan, a former police officer who serves on the board of the Nob Hill Association and has been trying to get on a commission for years.

Although both Jackson and Hogan have diverse experience with law enforcement — Jackson as an African American woman who claims the police have "no respect for people of color" and Hogan as a former police officer of Lebanese-Irish descent who manages real estate — neither has the support of the LGBT community. The position occupied by Deputy District Attorney James Hammer for the last two years, and Human Rights Commission director Theresa Sparks occupied before that, is widely considered to be an LGBT seat.

 

WHO'S THE REFORMER?

So now the fight is about whether Turman or Waggoner would be the strongest reformer.

In a recent open letter, former Board Presidents Harry Britt, Aaron Peskin. and Matt Gonzalez expressed support for Waggoner. "While most hardworking police officers perform their jobs admirably, insufficient oversight and poor management systems have led to significant problems," their letter stated. "Despite these widely reported problems, the Police Commission has failed to adequately address these issues. San Francisco needs real reform, not more of the same. We believe David Waggoner will be that voice at this critical time."

At the June 2 Rules Committee hearing, Waggoner proposed taking away master keys to single-resident occupancy (SRO) hotels from the police. "Significant abuse of that resulted in seriously tarnishing the department," he said.