Police union, city attorney spar over force policy


The San Francisco Police Commission is not required to bargain with The City’s police union over provisions of a new use of force policy that would prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles, the City Attorney’s Office said Thursday in response to a union lawsuit.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association filed an unfair labor practices lawsuit in Superior Court Tuesday seeking to block The City from unilaterally implementing the new policy, which was approved by the Police Commission Wednesday night over the objections of the union.

The city ended four months of negotiations with the union over the use of force policy in October when it declared an impasse. They were able to reach an agreement on a number of items but remained at odds over the prohibition on shooting at moving vehicles.

The lawsuit alleges The City’s declaration of an impasse and refusal to continue talks was premature and constituted an unfair labor practice. Union President Martin Halloran said in a statement:

“We’re asking a court to intervene and force the Police Commission back to the negotiating table.”

However, the city attorney’s office in a statement Thursday rejected the union’s argument that The City is obligated to bargain with the union on the policy:

“The power to enact regulations regarding the use of force is a quintessential exercise of the City’s police power and as such, a fundamental managerial decision that is not subject to the City’s obligation to bargain.”

Policy issues including a determination of the circumstances under which a police officer may use deadly force are “the exclusive prerogative of the Police Commission,” the city attorney’s office said:

“The City intends to vigorously defend its right to adopt and implement this well reasoned and thoroughly vetted use of force policy.”

The union’s lawsuit alleges that city negotiators made verbal agreements to allow shooting at vehicles in exceptional circumstances such as terrorist attacks where vehicles are being used as weapons, but then refused to put those agreements in writing.

The commission also reneged on an agreement to allow the use of a control hold known as the carotid restraint, the lawsuit alleges.

The policy bans the use of chokeholds but police had argued that the carotid restraint, a type of control hold that stops blood flow to the brain, could be used safely with proper training and was invaluable for smaller officers seeking to subdue a larger suspect.

Halloran said:

“The Commission tells us one thing in closed door meetings, then they refuse to put it in writing. … They sign agreements on one day, and renege on them the next.”

The commission did debate a motion Wednesday night to allow the use of carotid restraints in certain circumstances, at least until other unspecified alternatives could be made available to officers. However, that motion was defeated in a 4-3 vote.

Commission president Suzy Loftus said Wednesday that while the union had sought an exception to the ban on shooting at moving vehicles for situations where vehicles were used as weapons, past experience had demonstrated that this approach backfired.

After former police Chief Greg Suhr introduced a ban on shooting at moving vehicles in 2011 that included a list of exceptions, such incidents had actually increased, Loftus noted.

Instead, Loftus introduced language intended to make it clear that incidents would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis:

“There is a strict ban in this policy on shooting at cars and there is also an awareness that we cannot predict every situation that officers may face.”

The bans on shooting at moving vehicles and on carotid restraints are both backed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The city entered into a collaborative review process with the Department of Justice early last year that resulted in a report released in October with 479 recommendations for reforming the Police Department. Mayor Ed Lee has publicly committed the city to implementing all of the report’s recommendations.

The union is also pushing The City to allow the use of Taser stun guns to provide an additional less-lethal option for officers.

That proposal has been repeatedly shot down in the past in the face of intense community opposition, and Halloran today said the commission has refused recently to even discuss it.

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