Debra Walker confirmed for SF police commission

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Tuesday June 11, 2024
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Retired Judge C. Don Clay, left, and Debra Walker, right, were sworn in to the San Francisco Police Commission June 12 by Mayor London Breed. Photo: Courtesy Mayor's office
Retired Judge C. Don Clay, left, and Debra Walker, right, were sworn in to the San Francisco Police Commission June 12 by Mayor London Breed. Photo: Courtesy Mayor's office

Debra Walker, a lesbian who served on the San Francisco Police Commission for nearly two years before her term expired, won reappointment after being confirmed by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The 7-3 vote to reappoint Walker, who was renominated to the police oversight panel by Mayor London Breed in April, saw her gain the vote of District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, who voted against Walker two years ago. Walker's term is for four years, ending April 30. 2028.

"I'm excited to be going back to the commission and doing the work we need to do to be the best in the country," Walker told the Bay Area Reporter in a brief phone interview after the vote.

She also thanked community members who supported her.

Breed swore in Walker and retired Judge C. Don Clay, whom the supervisors also approved, Wednesday morning.

"Debra Walker has been a leader supporting the SFPD and has been instrumental in implementing every single reform laid out by the Department of Justice," Breed stated Tuesday, referring to the hundreds of reforms the federal agency recommended and the San Francisco Police Department has completed. "She has a proven track record both as a community advocate and delivering on critical public safety needs voiced by our community."

In addition to Chan, voting to confirm Walker were all three gay Supervisors — Matt Dorsey, Rafael Mandelman, and Joel Engardio - along with straight allies Supervisors Myrna Melgar, Catherine Stefani, and Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who voted against Walker in the June 3 rules committee meeting, was absent and excused. (Peskin and Safaí are both running for mayor against Breed.)

Voting against confirming Walker were Supervisors Shamann Walton, Dean Preston, and Hillary Ronen.

The board's vote will return LGBTQ representation to the high-profile commission, which has been without an out member since Walker's term ended in April.

Walker's fate was uncertain going into the June 11 board meeting. At last week's meeting of the rules committee, Walton and Safaí voted 2-0 to forward her name on to the full board with a negative recommendation. As the B.A.R. noted, Safaí repeatedly questioned Walker about her support for Proposition E, which voters passed in March and that takes some power away from the police commission.

Walker had told the B.A.R. after the rules committee meeting that she was confident she had the votes for reappointment.

In 2022, the Board of Supervisors confirmed Walker on an 8-3 vote, as the B.A.R. reported. At that time, Walton and Safaí voted for her. Supervisors Ronen, Preston, and Chan voted against.

During Tuesday's meeting, Peskin suspended the rules to invite Walker to address the board. She had come under criticism for comments at the rules committee meeting indicating she didn't believe the police panel should set policy. On Tuesday, she said she sees a difference between setting policy and the "granular" detail of Department General Orders, which are the Police Department's guidance.

"I'm really interested in working together not only on policing but on alternatives to policing," she said.

Chan said that despite some LGBTQ leaders urging her to vote against Walker, she has changed her mind from the 2022 vote. "Commissioner Walker and I met and discussed what we can do to find common ground," she said of her talking to Walker in the time since she'd served on the police commission.

Dorsey, who before joining the board had served as Police Chief William Scott's communications director, said that Walker "is uniquely qualified to serve in this post."

Melgar and Stefani brought up Walker's work to help get SFPD to 30% female officers by 2030, a goal of Scott's. Melgar said that statistics show that police departments with more women officers have better outcomes regarding reform and other issues.

"Commissioner Walker is the only police commissioner who's been interested in this and shown up," Melgar said.

Mandelman said he's known Walker for decades.


Ronen, Preston, and Walton said they would not vote for Walker because of her comment at last week's rules panel that non-police officers shouldn't be making policy.

"I think the opposite," Ronen said, adding the point of the police commission is civilian oversight.

Preston said he didn't think Walker was the best fit for the police commission. (Walker had previously served on the building inspection and arts commissions.)

Walton said that he walked into the rules meeting intending to support Walker but changed his mind. "She also advocated to decrease the role of the police commission — the very body she wants to serve on," he said.

Rules meeting

At the June 3 rules committee meeting, Walker at one point said, "there is way too much input from people who aren't cops." That comment stuck with Safaí, who repeatedly mentioned it. He was also critical of Walker's support for Prop E.

"Should we have a police commission?" Safaí asked Walker at one point.

"Yes," Walker responded.

Walker said that she supports all of the reforms the SFPD is undertaking, including meeting many of the 272 recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice after the SFPD asked it to review the department following a series of officer-involved shootings and high-profile misconduct cases in 2016, according to the department's website.

Walker also said that she supports the technology reforms that were part of Prop E, which was championed by Breed and Safer San Francisco.

"It makes it easier for officers to follow the rules, and I think we're going to be more effective," she said.

But Safaí noted that Prop E "did a number of things that take things out of the police commission's hands," including SFPD's pursuit policy. He said that prior to Prop E's passage, San Francisco had one of the most reputable pursuit policies. It was his understanding, he said, that under that policy officers would need to call in and get a "green light" from a captain in order to engage in a pursuit.

"Prop E removes that," he said.

In a phone interview June 4, Walker said it was ironic that her hearing came at the same time that Breed was raising the Pride flag at City Hall.

"As the flag was being raised, I was being attacked," she said.

She also took issue with Safaí asking if she was sure she had the time to commit to the commission.

"I have the time," she said at the meeting.

Updated, 6/12/24: This article has been updated with Ms. Walker getting sworn in.

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