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Supes' panel expected to vote on police commission applicants

by Alex Madison

Mayor Mark Farrell. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Mayor Mark Farrell. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

After the San Francisco Board of Supervisors angered Mayor Mark Farrell with its rejection of his two reappointments to the Police Commission, its rules committee is poised to vote on 12 applicants, including four LGBTs, at its meeting Wednesday.

Last week, Farrell called it "outrageous" that the supervisors rejected the reappointment of Police Commissioners Joe Marshall and Sonia Melara, leaving the oversight panel without enough members to convene or take action.

The 6-5 vote at the board's May 15 meeting comes at a precarious time for the commission, with the looming possibility that Police Chief William Scott will leave the San Francisco Police Department to become the next chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. The commission is also in the midst of implementing hundreds of reform recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice, including use-of-force policies.

Supervisors Jane Kim, Hillary Ronen, Aaron Peskin, Norman Yee, Malia Cohen, and Sandra Lee Fewer voted to reject the reappointments.

Fewer was the only person to speak on the rejection at the board's meeting saying, "I strongly feel that approval of mayoral appointments only three weeks before voters cast votes for the next mayor of San Francisco is premature."

Two weeks ago, the board's rules committee recommended reappointing both Melara, a Latina woman and social worker, and Marshall, an African-American man who's been on the commission for 14 years.

With the rejections, there are only three sitting commissioners on the seven-member police oversight panel, leaving it without the ability to search for a new chief - if Scott is selected for the LA job - or oversee police disciplinary hearings or discipline officers in cases of police misconduct. (Former Commissioner Julius Turman, a gay man, had already resigned from the panel before his death May 13.)

Farrell was not happy about the supervisors' decision and said the vote was politically motivated.

"I am extremely disappointed that the Board of Supervisors decided to politicize the appointment process of the Police Commission at such a crucial time in our city," he said in a statement. "Rejecting the reappointments of Joe Marshall, an African-American leader and longtime anti-violence pioneer, and Sonia Melara, a Latina woman and chief advocate of police reform, is outrageous."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who is running for re-election in June, agreed with the mayor and said he was surprised by the rejections. In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Sheehy said he was "disappointed" with the decision and said it "over politicized" what should be an independent commission.

"No argument was made that Ms. Melara and Mr. Marshall had done a bad job," he said. "On principle, I find it troubling to remove people from office when by all accounts have been doing a great job on what is a very difficult commission and at a very difficult time."

In defense of her vote, Cohen appeared on KTVU's "Mornings on 2," last Thursday, and said the commission "would have a full quorum by June 6."

Gay San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Leno said the delay made sense.

"Given that San Francisco will have a new mayor in the next few weeks, it makes sense that he or she should appoint the new police commissioners in order to better reflect the will of voters," he said.

In an email to the B.A.R., Cohen said the board has the opportunity to "revamp the infrastructure" of the commission and said "it is time that we bring on individuals with new perspective and fresh ideas to help strengthen and propel the Police Commission in a new direction."

To some, Melara and Marshall are seen as being too close to the San Francisco Police Officers Association, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. The union is behind Proposition H on the June ballot, which sets the police department's policy on the use of Tasers. Many of the supervisors, including mayoral candidate and board President London Breed, oppose Prop H, saying it undermines the purpose and authority of the commission. Neither Melara nor Marshall signed on to a ballot measure opposing Prop H.

New applicants
The mayor and Board of Supervisors each make appointments to the commission.

Currently, there are 12 people who have applied for vacancies the supervisors appoint. LGBT politicians, leaders, and community members are hoping to see someone from the LGBT community approved, as only one remains, lesbian Commissioner Petra DeJesus.

According to information on their applications, four people have indicated they identify as LGBT: DeAnthony Daymone Jones and Sneh Rao, both gay men; Marilyn Murrillo a transgender woman; and Linda Franklin, a lesbian.

Rao has worked at the city's Human Rights Commission as director of policy since 2013. He has also served as director of Latin-American programs at Global Exchange, an international human rights organization in San Francisco.

Rao, 34, said although the Police Commission has done good work, it needs improvement, including relations between San Francisco police officers and the LGBT community.

"Over one-third of LGBTQIA people don't trust the police," he told the B.A.R. in a recent interview. "That's not because of the police officers today, but because of the historical relationship communities have had, not just in our city, but in cities all across the world."

"Building bridges within communities so victims of violence feel safe going to the police is a role commissioners can play and can play well," Rao said.

He also spoke about bias and accountability within the SFPD and said the police could be doing a better and more comprehensive job of implementing the DOJ reforms.

"We need to look at bias and accountability in the context of the broader culture of policies and practices of the department," he said. "I don't think it's just about one training or one policy update. We need to take stock of what's happening across the board and why."

Jones, an African-American man, works as a teen program lead for Collective Impact, a nonprofit that administers community-based initiatives, mentoring young adults in the Western Addition and throughout the city. In his application, he said, as commissioner he hopes to improve relations among police and people of color, the LGBT community, and particularly, with youth through "intentional" programs, initiatives, and community partnerships.

"I hope to not only work with the youth in these programs, but to expand them as well so that relations between youth from marginalized communities and police officers can improve and become rooted in empathy as opposed to apathy," his application stated.

Murrillo, 49, emphasized the need for representation on the commission from people like her, stating in her application, "There is an unmet need for representation on the Police Commission for a low-income, college-educated, formerly homeless [San Francisco] resident, 49-year-old Latina transgender women to help reflect and advance the concerns and needs of people of color, homeless individuals, the Latino community, and low-income neighborhoods."

Franklin is a retired California Highway Patrol captain. In her application, she emphasized her commitment to "equal treatment for all" through her previous accomplishments including as a diversity training facilitator for the CHP, and as a former Equal Employment Opportunity counselor and investigator.

Sheehy weighed in on the importance of having LGBT representation on one of the most powerful commissions in San Francisco, especially after losing lesbian Commissioner Leslie Katz from the Port Commission. She was replaced by Gail Gilman, after Katz's term expired earlier this month. (Sheehy voted for Gilman.)

"A lot of policy decisions happen there," Sheehy said. "The Police Commission is one that has a great deal of influence over the discipline of police officers, major policy issues like use-of-force and types of tools that officers can use, and it's important for us to have a strong voice at the table."

Sheehy said the commission's relationship with the LGBT community is good, but could be better. He gave examples of reported harassment of trans sex workers by police and the treatment of trans people in prisons.

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