In divided vote, SF supervisors approve lesbian police commissioner Walker

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday July 12, 2022
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Debra Walker was confirmed to the San Francisco Police Commission. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Debra Walker was confirmed to the San Francisco Police Commission. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

In a divided vote Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved lesbian artist Debra Walker's mayoral appointment to the city's police commission. She returns LGBTQ representation to the powerful oversight body.

Mayor London Breed nominated Walker, 69, June 1 to replace Malia Cohen, a former supervisor and current elected member of the state Board of Equalization. Cohen stepped down earlier this year as she's running for state controller on the November ballot.

The supervisors voted 8-3 to confirm Walker as a police commissioner. It has been more than a year since Petra DeJesus, a lesbian and attorney, resigned from the closely scrutinized panel on April 30, 2021.

The supervisors rules committee last month had sent Walker's nomination on to the full board for a vote at its July 12 meeting without a recommendation. At its June 27 hearing, District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, who sits on the committee, had said she couldn't support Walker's serving as a police commissioner due to desiring someone with more experience in police reform work.

She reiterated her objections to Walker's appointment Tuesday. District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston agreed with Chan that Walker was not suited to serve on the police commission. All three stressed their vote was not due to personal issues but solely about their belief Walker lacked the qualifications they feel a member of the police commission should bring to the table.

"I also believe there should be queer representation on the police commission but it should be an individual who has a history or connection to policing and police reform issues," said Ronen. "And I think Ms. Walker explained during the rules committee hearing herself she did not have that background but would do her best."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who also sits on the rules committee, had voiced his support for Walker being seated on the police commission since he felt she had "done the work" to qualify for the position. He pointed to Walker being a former president of the progressive Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, which he had also led.

He again spoke in favor of seating Walker before the full board, saying Walker has been involved in police reform issues for decades.

"I think she should be confirmed," said Mandelman.

Walker currently serves on the city's arts commission. She was a strong supporter of Breed's 2018 mayoral campaign and co-chaired the arts and tourism committee that advised her on policy matters during her transition that summer.

During last month's committee meeting, Walker said that she was "interested and excited to engage in dialogue" and work to reform the police department. She also said she wanted to see if the many programs around public safety could be more connected.

One of the police commission's tasks is to conduct disciplinary hearings on charges of police misconduct. In an interview with the B.A.R. when she was nominated, Walker said she would thoroughly review each case brought before the seven-member body and be as transparent with the public as she could be. She would strive to do the same whenever there is a police officer-involved shooting.

"If I am seated and approved by the board, I will be making sure we get all the information and the public knows what happens," she said. "It is upsetting whenever there is a shooting of any kind."

Prior to serving on the arts commission, Walker served as a tenant representative on the city's Building Inspections Commission between 1999-2019. She lost her bid for the District 6 supervisor seat in 2010.

Originally from Nebraska, Walker moved to California in the early 1970s to attend college in Riverside. She worked for the Los Angeles Times as an assistant art director for several years and first moved to San Francisco in 1981. She lives in one of the city's oldest artist cooperatives.

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