San Francisco’s Police Commission refrained from exerting its power late Wednesday in an ongoing conflict between Police Chief Bill Scott and District Attorney Chesa Boudin in the hope that the top two law enforcement officials can settle their differences privately.
At the center of the conflict between Scott and Boudin is a reform agreement that puts the District Attorney’s Office in charge of criminal investigations into all police shootings, in-custody deaths and other serious use-of-force incidents.
The agreement is set to expire next Wednesday, following Scott's announcement two weeks ago that he was severing the deal over concerns that the DA unfairly withheld information from police while investigating an officer, Terrance Stangel, who is now standing trial for assault. Boudin fired back with his own allegations that police violated the agreement by withholding their own information.
But no one seems to want the arrangement to fall apart at this point, including Chief Scott. Rather than offer to take over the investigations as the chief requested, California Attorney General Rob Bonta stepped in Monday to help Scott and Boudin renegotiate the deal behind closed doors. And Mayor London Breed and City Attorney David Chiu are also helping out.
Scott told the commission that he and Boudin are working to craft a short-term compromise to keep protocols in place for investigating the incidents if the agreement expires. He said a draft of that interim agreement is due to the attorney general on Friday.
“I’m optimistic that we can get this done if we can agree on the fundamental issues,” Scott told the commission. “It’s moving very quickly.”
While two commissioners—John Hamasaki and Larry Yee—expressed support for ordering the chief to delay his withdrawal from the agreement by a month to allow negotiations to continue, the commission instead followed the lead of Commission President Malia Cohen, who said she would likely call for an emergency meeting next Wednesday to determine next steps. At that point, Cohen said either the commission would take action to prevent the agreement from lapsing or mitigate the impacts of the deal expiring, depending on whether the chief and Boudin were able to reach a compromise.
Scott was blasted by the commission last week for blindsiding its members with his decision to withdraw from the agreement. But the chief said he felt compelled to act when the allegations emerged in the Stangel case and caused an “immediate collapse of trust” among officers.
Scott and Boudin appear to fundamentally disagree on what information their agencies need to share from the parallel investigations they conduct into incidents covered by the agreement. While Scott said information sharing between the agencies should be a two-way street, Boudin told reporters Monday that that should not always be the case.
“If SFPD had access to everything we're doing in real time, if they were sitting there with us during every interview, if they saw every single investigative step we took during or after the fact, it would not be [an independent investigation],” Boudin said.
Scott first reached the agreement in question with former District Attorney George Gascon in 2019. He later renewed the agreement with Boudin last July after months of negotiations.
The chief used the agreement to argue that his department satisfied six of the 272 recommendations for SFPD reform issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2016, according to a report released by the state DOJ last Friday.
Rescinding the agreement could impact whether the SFPD is in compliance with those recommendations. The recommendations included notifying outside agencies on a timely basis when a police shooting occurs, as required by the agreement. The federal government also recommended that “clear communication protocols, responsibilities, and roles need to be established among the key partners responsible for investigations into criminal conduct” by officers.
Michael Barba can be reached at email@example.com