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Renne confirmed as Police Commission President
over objection of Vice President

Sparks charges commission failed police reform

Commissioner Theresa Sparks (left) stepped down as Commission Vice President
after commissioners voted to keep Louise Renne (right)
as President of the Police Commission.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy

Copyright fogcityjournal.com 2006

May 25, 2006

The Police Commission last night confirmed Louise Renne to a second term as president over the objection of its vice president who charged the commission had failed voter mandate for police reform.

Vice President Theresa Sparks, who cast the sole 'no' vote on returning Renne to a two-year presidency, declined nomination for another term as commission vice president.

Commissioner David Campos unanimously was elected vice president.

For her part, Renne said the "commission has made some significant changes but it's absolutely true we have a lot of work do."

Sparks stated the commission failed to implement intent of voter approved Proposition H, which recast the Police Commission from nine members to seven and split appointment power between the Mayor's Office and Board of Supervisors.

Prop H proponents alleged previous Police Commissions were rubber stamps for mayors who appointed all police commissioners. The measure was meant to broaden involement in police reform.

Sparks alleged intent of Prop H has not been fulfilled.

"The commission in my opinion has failed the intent of Prop H and has failed the residents of San Francisco," explained Sparks.

"The board appointees were appointed to move forward with this commission and I believe honestly that we've failed in that job.

"In my opinion Prop H was really about reform. It was about the oversight, civilian oversight, of a huge bureaucracy.

"In my opinion, the Police Commission should have started... the process of police reform from the beginning of its being seated long prior to the time of the video scandal and the mayor's proclamation of the blue ribbon panel."

Sparks found conversations with city agencies one-sided and Police Commission response as reactive rather than pro-active, she said.

"This should have been pro-active rather than reactive," added Sparks.

"In our City Hall meetings most of the dialogue with department heads has been one-sided.

"Reports of various departments within the SFPD and the dialogue with the OCC (Office of Citizens Complaints) have been very limited, and in some cases almost non-existent."

The Police Commission sometimes ignores public comment, Sparks stated.

"We sit and we listen to public comment on a weekly basis and in many cases do nothing."

Sparks, appointed to the commission by the Board of Supervisors, charged that honest dialogue had not occurred in commission neighborhood meetings.

"Monthly we have meetings in the communities which have become somewhat of beauty pageants for the district captains - and I can't think of any time when there has been honest dialogue with the community in any of these public meetings.

"All the while homicides have continued to reach new highs, staff levels have plummeted, and morale is approaching a new low in the department."

Commissioners must know exactly the right question to ask in order to receive information from the Police Department, Sparks complained.

"Also getting information from the department - although it's getting better - still depends on commissioners asking exactly the right question."

A coordinated City policing policy has not developed, according to Sparks.

"There is really no shared vision between the board, the mayor, that I can tell as far as what a 21st police department should be.

"This commission in my opinion should have been reaching out to all of these entities and facilitating these discussions as part of the promise under Prop H.

"I don't think we should be criticized for talking to members of the board - I think we should be criticized if don't talk to members of the board.

"We shouldn't only talk to the mayor's office or the chief of police. We should arrange and set meetings on a weekly or a monthly basis to talk to the mayor's office.

She asked the commission to intervene in disputes arising between the District Attorney's Office and the Police Department.

"We should... create dialogue during the periodic disputes that have arisen between the SFPD and the district attorney.

"Instead of waiting for ordinary citizens to come to City Hall for three minutes of unanswered public comment I think we should be holding annual or periodic town hall meetings in all districts as opposed to the beauty pageants which have been put on by the district captains.

Sparks called for an annual report from the Police Commission.

"We should actively prepared an annual report and a statement of purpose of the mayor and the Board of Supervisors as the charter has required.

Effectiveness of the commission is constrained by its budget, maintained Sparks.

"We should fight for funding not only at the board but at the Mayor's Budget Office where in my opinion budget and real policy about the San Francisco Police Department occurs at the budget office, which I think is incorrect and which is wrong.

"We should not accept the Mayor's Budget Office decision not to fund commission staff. We need to talk to mayor's office and try to encourage them to put a budget forward to fund the staff that this commission recommended.

"We should not accept the mayor's office... initially to put off once again for another year's civilianization of the department. I think it is a critical element and it's also an element of Prop H and we as the commission should be directly intervening in these decisions to hopefully put that forward."

Sparks also called for support of the police department.

"In my opinion, this commission needs to fulfill the promise of Prop H once and for all.

"It needs to provide access to the department for the general public and importantly it needs to support the courageous men and women of the SFPD on the streets every day in risking their lives to keep us safe.

"Those values I think are anything but mutually exclusive," Sparks concluded.

She suggested re-election of Renne as president "will be a very positive thing" if those goals are reached.

Renne agreed with points raised by Sparks.

"Commissioner Sparks... I think you know I have enormous respect for you, and I most sincerely mean that, and secondly I think the points you raised are very excellent points," responded Renne.

"We have made I think some significant changes but it's absolutely true that we have a lot more to do.

"And I think that just as Commissioner (David) Campos earlier this evening pointed out how we need to work more collectively with all branches of government.

"It is a point that I know you feel very strongly about and a point that I hope we can accomplish this year if we haven't accomplished it already in some respects.

"I very much respect your feelings and I sincerely hope that together all of us can work on improving what we need to be doing.

"I think everyone in the City is very concerned about the homicide rate and how we go about handling that situation.

"I think that you and others... on the commission have said it cannot be just us. It's got to be us. It's got to be the mayor. It's got to be the Board of Supervisors. It has to be all of the elected officials having a dialogue and listening to one another.

"And so to the extent that your remarks represent that point of view I just want to say I wholeheartedly subscribe to them and I look forward to working with you on that effort.

"It's for the good the City and certainly for all of services that needs to happen, and I totally agree with what you have to say," Renne asserted.

Commissioner Campos asked the commission to use Sparks' comments as a mantra for going forward.

"I really appreciate the comments that both of you have made," Campos began.

Commissioner David Campos

"Vice President Sparks I think that her people care about the implementation of Proposition H.

"I think that your remarks in my mind are the best summary of what the course of action, the strategy should be.

"I think that we would be well served if we used that as a mantra going forward.

"I know that President Renne is committed to moving forward because I do believe that we as a commission have yet to truly live up to the promise of Prop H.

"I certainly am committed to doing that and I believe that doing that requires that all of us work together and I thank you both for your comments."

The commission succeeded in clearing investigation backlogs and housekeeping issues, Commissioner Petra DeJesus observed.

DeJesus also said the commission has addressed issues raised by Sparks.

"I think we do try to address the issues as the public comes forward," DeJesus told commissioners.

Commissioner Petra DeJesus (right)

"I think we address the issues of crime as they are brought forward - the early warning system.

"We also recognize the funding is not there for the Police Department for the technology to implement the early interconnecting system.

"We as a commission have gone down to the Board of Supervisors and have requested... supplemental funding as well as funding for next year.

"We have not let that go."

Commissioner Joe Veronese saw partial commission success over the last two years.

"I've been on this commission for two years and I feel like we haven't gotten a whole lot done," noted Veronese.

Commissioner Joe Alioto-Veronese

"We have gotten some things done but we're certainly below the public standard."

Veronese suggested service as a police commissioner should be a fulltime job.

"I think this commission should be a little bit more active which is almost an impossibility because we're all fully employed in other jobs and this should certainly be a fulltime job.

"That being said I think have a lot to do over this coming year. I look forward to working with the commissioners who are here and it certainly goes to show that I think we all work together very well."

Commissioner Dr. Joe Marshall cited the value of continuity.

"I'm a big fan of continuity... and a big problem has been lack of continuity here," Marshall explained his vote for Renne.

Commissioner Joe Marshall

Sparks may resign from the Police Commission if she concludes sufficient progress does not occur, Sparks told the Sentinel.




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