Hammer Wins Police Commission Nomination

Written by Luke Thomas. Posted in News, Politics

Published on November 06, 2009 with 22 Comments


Attorney James Hammer won the nomination for the open seat
on the San Francisco Police Commission yesterday.
Photos by Luke Thomas

By Luke Thomas

November 6, 2009

Attorney James Hammer won the backing of the Rules Committee yesterday for the open seat on the San Francisco Police Commission vacated by recently appointed Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to serve,” Hammer said following the two-hour hearing. “I’m a third-generation San Franciscan. I tie into a lot of different parts of San Francisco. My parents are from the Westside. I’m gay. I’ve worked with Latino immigrants, African-American victims, and I look forward to being a really strong voice to make the San Francisco Police Department even better, and to work even more closely with communities.”

Supervisors Chris Daly and Michela Alioto-Pier provided Hammer the nomination on the three-member panel over Attorneys David Waggoner and Robert Retana, the two closest contenders.  Rules Committee Chair David Campos, though supportive of Hammer’s candidacy, voted for Retana.


Hammer makes his presentation before the Rules Committee.

Daly, who publicly supported Hammer’s nomination, said Hammer would be “an immediate game changer, and I think that we need an immediate game changer right now on the San Francisco Police Commission with the new administration.”

“I think Mr. Hammer would have an impact at the first meeting,” Daly added.


Supervisors Chris Daly and David Campos.

Alioto-Pier, who appeared to be supportive of Civil Service Commissioner Morgan Gorrono’s candidacy, said she “found [Hammer’s] testimony to be exemplary,” while noting Hammer’s unique experience working both as a public defender and prosecutor.

“He has also been very vocal when it comes to women’s rights… and that is something that is very important to me,” Alioto-Pier added.


Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier

On Alioto-Pier’s support, Hammer told FCJ: “I know politics plays a part often in these things, but I think sometimes people look at peoples’ qualifications and who they are,” adding, “When you put politics aside, I think my life speaks for itself and I’m really gratified that I got support from people who normally don’t agree on anything.”

In addition to his tenures as a criminal prosecutor and public defender, Hammer worked as a reserve police officer for four years. He also studied to be a Jesuit priest and briefly worked as a high school teacher in Watts, Los Angeles. He currently works in private practice as a defense and civil rights attorney.

Hammer has also been associated with rumors that he will run for the Office of District Attorney in 2011. On this subject, Hammer told FCJ: “I have no plans to run for anything right now.  It’s a job I would love to hold.  I’ve made no secret about that.  We have a D.A. now and I don’t even know if the job will be open, but I can say unequivocally if I make it past the Board in twelve days, I’m going to spend my time, frankly away from my law practice, focusing on this because I think this is very important.”

The full Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on Hammer’s nomination next week.

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas is a former software developer and computer consultant who proudly hails from London, England. In 2001, Thomas took a yearlong sabbatical to travel and develop a photographic portfolio. Upon his return to the US, Thomas studied photojournalism to pursue a career in journalism. In 2004, Thomas worked for several neighborhood newspapers in San Francisco before accepting a partnership agreement with the SanFranciscoSentinel.com, a news website formerly covering local, state and national politics. In September 2006, Thomas launched FogCityJournal.com. The BBC, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, New York Times, Der Spiegel, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, 7x7, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Bay Guardian and the San Francisco Weekly, among other publications and news outlets, have published his work. Thomas is a member of the Freelance Unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521 and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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  • Ruth R. Snave

    Chris Daly says that Jim Hammer will be a “game changer” at the Police Commission. What game does Daly have in mind?

    Some years ago, I watched Jim Hammer and his mentor Terence Hallinan at work during hearings at the supes on medical marijuana. Hammer and Hallinan had volunteered their services to the cannabis capitalists.

    The two did everything in their power to give the cannabis capitalists an unfettered field of play in our neighborhoods. They reminded me of lawyers who defended laissez-faire capitalism in the 19th century.

    At no time during the hearings, did Hammer and Hallinan show any regard for people living in poor and at-risk neighborhoods who were struggling to make them safe, clean, and peaceful.

    Is this the new game that Hammer will bring to the Police Commission, with Daly’s blessing?

  • tami

    It’s an interesting alliance that Daly and Alioto-Pier agreed on Hammer. I only know him as the DA that prosecuted the dog mauling case, and as a TV commentator, but based on this article, he sounds like he’d be an outstanding commissioner. On the top of my list is the Gang Task Force and the racial profiling of NON-GANG MEMBERS IN THE EXCELSIOR. In October I know of two, though goodness knows how many there are I don’t know about, incidents where non-gang-members were targeted, detained by police, and now one of those youth, with NO criminal activity has been turned over to ICE and sent to Oregon, while his mother was not allowed to meet with him, an attorney or have any due process. The police never should have picked up this kid, and it is criminal that they turned him over to ICE. The other case I know of, a thug, maybe a real gang member, threatened a minor, lied to the police and ended up getting away with his crime, while the innocent victims were criminalized by the GTF, Locking up the innocent, simply because they are Latino, and ignoring bona fide criminals will not make San Francisco safer. The GTF in the Excelsior, I know of the Bologna and MIranda tragedies, so of course CRIMINALS need to be dealt with, are not making us safer with their tactics. I hope the police commission will deal with this issue and prevent the police from turning innocent youth over to ICE. The GTF in the Excelsior seem to need special scrutiny.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    We all agree that the police should not target the innocent. Rather, the police should come down, in a professional and legal manner, on those who commit crimes.

    But for all that, Jim Hammer owes the voters an explanation. As noted above, he expressed no concern for the impact of pot outlets on marginal neighborhoods, when the supes held hearings on medical marijuana.

    To the contrary, he wanted the dealers to be as free as possible of regulations.

    Is this a suitable attitude for someone to have who sits on the police commission?

    Shouldn’t police commissioners have a high regard for the public good?

    Or is that asking for too much?

  • greg kamin

    I don’t know enough about Jim Hammer to form an opinion about him, but I think we all need to keep in mind the difference between the police, and the Police Commission. The Police Commission is supposed to watch over the police, make sure that they’re not violating the rights of citizens (and non-citizens for that matter) as they fight crime. Fighting crime itself is not the job of the Police Commission. That’s the job of the police.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    In a post above, Greg says:

    “Fighting crime itself is not the job of the Police Commission. That’s the job of the police.”

    If fighting crime is the job of the police, then fighting crime is not irrelevant to the body that oversees the police.

    The purpose of the police commission is to see that the police do their job competently, fairly, and legally. The police commission is not an arm of the public defender’s office, as Greg seems to think.

    If Jim Hammer wants to be a member of the police commission, he should show a due regard for the efforts by residents to make their neighborhoods safe, clean, and peaceful in the face of criminal behavior.

    A question remains as to whether Hammer has such a due regard. That’s because Hammer was an advocate, along with his mentor, Terence Hallinan, for a laissez-faire policy toward the cannabis capitalists.

    It is reasonable to ask Hammer for an explanation of this behavior. His explanation has not yet been forthcoming.

    Hammer may be able to skirt the issue in his bid to serve on the police commission. But I doubt that such evasiveness will serve him well if he decides to run for D.A., which he has hinted is part of his political agenda.

  • greg kamin

    “If fighting crime is the job of the police, then fighting crime is not irrelevant to the body that oversees the police.”

    It’s not irrelevant; it’s just not the police commission’s job.

    In any case, one doesn’t have to adhere to your particular ideology in order to be sensitive to the needs of residents to keep their neighborhoods safe. Let’s not forget that during Hallinan’s tenure, the crime rate went down precipitously. No previous “tough-on-crime” DA, and none since, has managed to bring about such a rapid decline in crime.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Greg,

    Thanks for your post above. Your comment is very helpful in clarifying the issue at hand.

    I note that you say:

    “Let’s not forget that during Hallinan’s tenure, the crime rate went down precipitously. No previous ‘tough-on-crime’ DA, and none since, has managed to bring about such a rapid decline in crime.”

    I congratulate you for standing up and forthrightly expressing this view of the record of Terence Hallinan.

    Is Jim Hammer prepared to do the same?

    Hammer worked for Hallinan, and continued to view him as a mentor, even after Hallinan was voted out of office.

    Is Hammer now prepared to stand on, and defend, Hallinan’s record as D.A.?

    This is a fair question. Politicians have histories and records. The voters are entitled to remind the politicians of their records and to ask questions of them about their records.

    I hope Hammer will be as forthright as you are.

    We’re all ears.

  • greg kamin

    “I congratulate you for standing up and forthrightly expressing this view of the record of Terence Hallinan.”

    I just have one minor quibble with this statement. There are opinions, and there are facts.

    The “views” you expressed about James Hammer are opinions.

    What I said about Terence Hallinan’s record as DA is based on FBI crime statistics which showed an overall decrease in crime of 52%, and a decrease in violent crime of 60% during Hallinan’s 8 years. That is not a “view.” That is a fact.

  • alternative johnny

    Can’t touch this…..all together now…

    Hi people, before I get on to Proposition H, I’d just like to say that Michaela is looking good. However, shampoo would improve the package…

    What’s DA got to do with this….Dennis (Abbleton) is living down in the keys doing 24-hours miller-time. You leave him out of this. Crime is a result of…well genes, inequality and just the presence of assholes. Quote me. A society based on greed, consumerism and an F-U mentality will never get rid of crime. That’s why liberty allows me to carry a gun when I go out to buy a packet of Cheetos. God bless America.

    AJ of course

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Greg,

    Thank you for the data you mention above.

    I notice that you refer to statistics that refer to crime rates and not statistics that refer to conviction rates.

    Crime rates tend to go up and down in aggregate waves across the country, independent of particular localities. They reflect national patterns, although there may be some local fluctuations.

    As best as I can recall offhand, a similar decrease in crime rates characterized most places in the U.S. in the time period you refer to. SF was part of that larger pattern. Isn’t that correct?

    However, Hallinan was repeatedly criticized during this same period for his conviction rate, which is another matter altogether. Again, as best as I can recall, his conviction rate was among the lowest in California. Isn’t that correct?

    It’s not much solace to average folks to know that crime rates in general are going down, following a national pattern, while the likelihood of arresting and convicting assailants who attack them in their neighborhoods is among the lowest in the state.

    Hallinan was also criticized for another matter, of which I have first-hand knowledge, and not recollections from reading reports.

    During Hallinan’s tenure, there was a pilot program, paid for by federal funds, whereby the D.A. sent reps to the courts that handle citations issued to the city’s public addicts, alcoholics, and psychotics who live on the streets.

    The Coalition on Homelessness protested this practice. They said such prosecutions constituted a “war on the poor.” Under pressure from the Coalition, Hallinan shut down the pilot program and rejected the federal funds.

    As a result, the city had no reps on its behalf when such cases came to court. However, the Coalition on Homelessness sent a generic rep on behalf of all the addicts, alcoholics, and psychotics who were thus cited.

    Those cited did not even have to appear personally in court. The generic attorney from the Coalition argued on behalf of the absent defendant, while no one represented the city, thanks to Hallinan.

    This imbalance caused thousands of citations to be dismissed each year, with no appearance at all by defendants. The effect was to allow the city’s public addicts, alcoholics, and psychotics to do whatever they wanted, short of felonies, in public places, with no consequences, and for long periods of time.

    We have all seen the appalling results. Public parks and places were overwhelmed with people who urinated and defecated in them, tossed beer bottles, trash, and used needles everywhere, set fires, harassed passers-by, and pounded on drums around the clock.

    The deterioration was most noticeable in poor and at-risk neighborhoods. They were overwhelmed with abuse from the public addicts, alcoholics, and psychotics, an assault that further destabilized these neighborhoods.

    Fortunately, Hallinan’s disastrous policy was reversed by his successor, Kamala Harris, about a year she took office. (I was among those who helped convince her to reverse it.)

    But it will take a long time to undo the terrible, sustained damage inflicted on our neighborhoods by Hallinan’s deliberate decision not to do his job.

    Jim Hammer worked for Hallinan during this period.

    Did Hammer approve of the cancellation of the pilot program funded by federal funds? If so, doesn’t that speak poorly of his qualifications to serve on the Police Commission?

    If Hammer did not approve of the cancellation, what steps did he take to oppose the cancellation?

    That dialog that you and I are having shows that there are many factors to be considered in evaluating Hallinan’s reign as D.A. As I mentioned in another post, I give you credit for going to bat for Hallinan and arguing on his behalf.

    However, you are not a candidate for a public position who worked for Hallinan and supported his policies. Jim Hammer is.

    Where is he in this debate?

  • marc

    “Fortunately, Hallinan’s disastrous policy was reversed by his successor, Kamala Harris, about a year she took office. (I was among those who helped convince her to reverse it.)

    But it will take a long time to undo the terrible, sustained damage inflicted on our neighborhoods by Hallinan’s deliberate decision not to do his job.”

    Great, the problem of the city’s public addicts, alcoholics, defecators, urinators, vomiters and psychotics is now solved, along with the filth crisis, and Arthur Evans can declare victory and will quit his whining on the topic.

    Good work, Arthur!

    -marc

  • Ruth R. Snave

    marc,

    Thanks for your post above. One question, though.

    You quote this sentence:

    “it will take a long time to undo the terrible, sustained damage inflicted on our neighborhoods by Hallinan’s deliberate decision not to do his job.”

    On the basis of that sentence, you conclude:

    “Great, the problem of the city’s public addicts, alcoholics, defecators, urinators, vomiters and psychotics is now solved”

    How does your conclusion follow from the quote?

  • marc

    The policy was reversed, Arthur Evans won, and it will take time for the fruits of Arthur’s staggeringly amazing policy victory to ripen. Would Arthur suggest that more work can be done to hasten that? If so, is DA Harris down with that as well?

    I think that C.W. Nevius should do a citizen activism success profile on Arthur.

    -marc

  • greg kamin

    Arthur,
    While it’s true that crime rates go up and down for various reasons, San Francisco’s crime rate went down faster than the nation as a whole during Hallinan’s time. And while it’s true that our city recorded the lowest conviction rate in the state, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. It has less to do with the competence of the DA’s office, than with the quality of San Francisco’s juries (and judges to some extent). I worry when a DA boasts of a 90% or 95% conviction rate. To me, that says that juries and judges are rubber-stamping the DA. To me that says the system isn’t working correctly, because to put it plainly, the DA simply isn’t right 95% of the time. Nobody is right 95% of the time. Sometimes the defense is right, and in San Francisco, moreso than in other jurisdictions, juries and judges seem to realize that, and act in a more deliberative manner when weighing the arguments. And for this reason, we STILL have the lowest conviction rate in the state, even with a new “tough on crime” DA.

    But of course all of this is getting way off topic. Fundamentally, you seem to believe that the Police Commission should be an arm of the police rather than a watchdog over the police. I believe the opposite… and again, “believe” isn’t exactly the correct word here, because there’s a concrete job description for what the police commission should be doing. When it was created over the objection of law-and-order conservatives, and when it was strengthened by the voters (2003’s Prop H) -again over the objections of conservatives (including your own opposition), there was a concrete vision and goal of the Police Commission serving as a watchdog over the police.

    If you now want to appoint people who see the Police Commission as an arm of the police rather than a watchdog, it’s not a matter of “your view” vs “my view.” Your “view” would be completely contrary to the mandate that the majority of the city has given to the police commission, and would undermine its very purpose.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    marc,

    I always enjoy the diversions you introduce into threads. They provide a nice break from the business of thinking. Thanks for continuing that tradition of yours in this thread.

    However, the basic questions of this thread still remain unanswered:

    What is the new “game” that Jim Hammer will bring to the police commission?

    Will it be a continuation of the games played by Terence Hallinan, for whom Hammer worked?

    Inquiring voters would like to know.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Greg,

    Thanks for taking the time to write your post above. I appreciate the fact that you are willing to have an intelligent dialog on this issue.

    Below are some responses.

    You say:

    “while it’s true that our city recorded the lowest conviction rate in the state, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.”

    It wouldn’t be a bad thing if so many ordinary folks here, who are victims of crime, didn’t feel that the criminal justice system is letting them down. But they do. The feeling is widespread, especially in poor and at-risk neighborhoods.

    You say:

    “It has less to do with the competence of the DA’s office, than with the quality of San Francisco’s juries (and judges to some extent).”

    Both are problems. A good D.A., if faced with an ongoing problem of a poor jury system, would take the leadership in proposing changes to improve the system.

    Terence Hallinan has never done that, nor has his successor, Kamala Harris.

    You say:

    “I worry when a DA boasts of a 90% or 95% conviction rate.”

    Granted, an excessive conviction rate is a red flag. So is a poor conviction rate, as characterized Hallinan’s regime.

    You say:

    “we STILL have the lowest conviction rate in the state, even with a new ‘tough on crime’ DA.”

    I’ve lived in SF for 35 years. In that period, we have never had a first-rate D.A. They have all been hacks. Hallinan was one of the worst. Harris is a little better. Which isn’t saying much.

    You say:

    “you seem to believe that the Police Commission should be an arm of the police rather than a watchdog over the police.”

    No, I believe the police commission should be a watchdog, seeing that the police are doing their job properly. That means both effectively enforcing the law and respecting the civil rights of the populace.

    You say:

    “there was a concrete vision and goal of the Police Commission serving as a watchdog over the police.”

    That’s fine with me. However, the police commission is not an arm of the public defender’s office, as you would like it to be.

    You say:

    “over the objections of conservatives (including your own opposition)”

    Wrong. I support having the police commission as an effective watchdog, as noted above. Also, I’m not a conservative but an equal-opportunity skeptic.

    My basic view of politics is that politicians contain a great deal of hokum and a small amount of excellence. That’s true across the political spectrum.

    Discerning minds should detect both the hokum and the excellence. And in any case, I’m on the side of the voters, not the politicians.

    You say:

    “Your ‘view’ would be completely contrary to the mandate that the majority of the city has given to the police commission, and would undermine its very purpose.”

    False, as already noted.

    My view is that people who are appointed to the police commission should stand up and answer questions from the voters about their records of public service.

    It’s called democracy.

    It has yet to happen in the case of Jim Hammer.

  • greg kamin

    I said: “It has less to do with the competence of the DA’s office, than with the quality of San Francisco’s juries (and judges to some extent).”

    Arthur’s response: “Both are problems. A good D.A., if faced with an ongoing problem of a poor jury system, would take the leadership in proposing changes to improve the system.”

    You completely miss my point in the above exchange, Arthur. The point I’m making is that when juries act in a deliberative manner and consider all sides, that is a GOOD thing, not a BAD thing. San Francisco may just be the only jurisdiction in the country where the jury system actually functions as intended.

    “That’s fine with me. However, the police commission is not an arm of the public defender’s office, as you would like it to be.”

    Not an arm of the public defender’s office, but fighting crime (other than crimes committed by the police) is simply not their job. When you have a problem with crime, you go to the police. When you have a problem with the police, you go to the police commission. Why is this so hard to understand?

    “My view is that people who are appointed to the police commission should stand up and answer questions from the voters about their records of public service.”

    If the police commission were elected, that would be valid. And that’s a novel idea, one that I might support. But as it stands, they’re appointed, and as such they go before the appointing body to answer questions, which Mr. Hammer has done.

    “It’s called democracy.

    It has yet to happen in the case of Jim Hammer.”

    Funny you of all people should talk about democracy!

    You know, Arthur, there was a time not too long ago when police commissioners were all appointed by one man, and when the public came to them complaining about the way the police were doing their jobs, they would cut off members of the public, they would all get up in unison and leave the room, they would abruptly call meetings to a halt, they would routinely violate the law by having secret meetings in another room outside the scrutiny of the public. In short, they had no regard for the democratic process, and were completely oblivious to the needs of the public who were seeking their help.

    You never complained about “democracy” then. You never asked the commissioners to stand before the voters and answer questions about their records. Unlike Jim Hammer, who appeared in public to answer questions at the BOS, on TV, the police commissioners never answered questions from ANYONE in those days (except for the ONE MAN who
    appointed them, whose reasoning was known only to him). But you didn’t care back then.

    Prop H democratized the police commission to some extent, diversified the appointment process. YOU opposed Prop H.

    There’s still a lot of work to do to make the police commission a truly effective watchdog, but at least Prop H changed imperious manner with which they treated members of the public. At least they no longer treat the public as a nuisance to be disposed of.

    I find it deeply ironic that you’re now whining about “democracy” when you completely opposed previous efforts to democratize the police commission at every turn.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Greg,

    Thanks for taking the time to post your additional thoughts on the issues at hand. Some responses to your arguments follows.

    You say:

    “You completely miss my point in the above exchange … The point I’m making is that when juries act in a deliberative manner and consider all sides, that is a GOOD thing, not a BAD thing.”

    I’m doing the best I can with the brains that nature gave me to follow your arguments.

    We agree that juries should act in a deliberative manner. We disagree that it’s a good thing that SF has the worst conviction rate in the state.

    You say:

    “but fighting crime (other than crimes committed by the police) is simply not their [the Police Commission’s] job. … Why is this so hard to understand?”

    As I said, I’m doing my best to understand.

    The Police Commission is responsible for seeing that the police fight crime in a professional, responsible, legal way.

    For example, the commission makes recommendations as to who should be the police chief. If it were the case that fighting crime is not the business of the commission, as you claim, then it would not have the job of making such recommendations.

    You say:

    “they’re [the police commissioners] appointed, and as such they go before the appointing body to answer questions, which Mr. Hammer has done.”

    If the voters should have no say in the process of appointing police commissioners, as you argue, then why is there a slot for public comment during the hearing on the matter?

    You say:

    “Funny you of all people should talk about democracy!”

    Have you ever disagreed with someone in a political argument without attacking their character?

    You may want to try it some time. As an experiment.

    You say:

    “You never complained about ‘democracy’ then” [when all the police commissioners were appointed].

    False. I’ve long advocated for having the members of ALL commissions, including the Police Commission, partly appointed by the mayor and party elected by the supes.

    You say:

    “You never asked the commissioners to stand before the voters and answer questions about their records. … But you didn’t care back then.”

    False. I have had vigorous encounters with the Police Commission in the past, when they were appointed, over the way the police handled matters.

    For the record, I’ve been arrested nine times over the years in actions of peaceful civil disobedience on behalf of social justice.

    You say:

    “YOU opposed Prop H.”

    False. I supported it and still do.

  • alternative johnny

    Democracy is the freedom of the rich and powerful to exploit and control the weak. I think that we could add the dumb. But being dumb is a fundamental human right, too, and people in power are often dumb. G.W. is a good example of that and he looked after corporations very nicely. This is Obama”s problem: he ain’t dumb, but he’s dumb to have taken a job where his clarion call for change is basically impossible. It can’t be done. Not in my lifetime, and not even global warming will make one iota of significant difference to how, in the urgent short term, we mange our economies and, most importantly, our (generally speaking) greedy, self-interested selves.

    So what’s Prop H gonna do about the big issues? Another teenager busted for riding on the sidewalk?

    I need a beer.

    AJ

  • Ruth R. Snave

    I watched the video of the Rules Committee hearing. Jim Hammer spent his time talking about what a wonderful person he is:

    His outstanding training as a Jesuit. His tremendous compassion for the oppressed. His untiring diligence in investigative work. His remarkable courtroom skills. His profound insight into the labors of both police officers and defense lawyers.

    I was waiting for him to claim he had raised people from the dead. But apparently he hasn’t reached that level. Yet.

    Anyway, it was a great sales pitch.

    To top it off, Chris Daly reminded everyone that Hammer may be a contender, down the road, for the office of D.A.

    Gosh, said Hammer, if I run for D.A., and it gets in the way of being a top-notch member of commission, I’ll resign from the commission.

    No harm in any of this. Politicians are entitled to strut and crow and soften the crowd up for future campaigns.

    But it would have been nice to know what the new “game” is that Hammer is ready to bring to the Police Commission.

    To me, as one voter, the spectacle looked like an old familiar game: Politics as usual.