Skip to main content

San Francisco police commissioners walk out amid criticism of Mayor London Breed

Commissioner Debra Walker stormed off from the meeting Wednesday, saying her colleague violated the Brown Act. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Tensions flared among members of San Francisco’s powerful and controversial Police Commission on Wednesday when criticism of Mayor London Breed spurred two of her appointees to walk out of the meeting in apparent protest.

Commission Vice President Max Carter-Oberstone was responding to Breed accusing the commission of passing policies that prevented officers from doing their jobs when one of his colleagues, Commissioner Debra Walker, cut him off. Breed had blasted the Police Commission Tuesday while announcing that she would place a measure on the ballot next March.

Walker questioned whether Carter-Oberstone was allowed to address a ballot measure during the meeting, particularly when the proposal was not on the agenda for the night. When Carter-Oberstone tried to continue with his comments about the mayor, Walker stormed off and was followed by her ally, Commissioner Larry Yee.

Their absence meant there were not enough commissioners at the meeting to continue the hearing, since commission President Cindy Elias and Commissioner Jesus Yáñez were not present.

“I guess we’ll sit tight then until our friends rejoin us,” Carter-Oberstone said as the meeting went into recess.

Breed took aim at the commission while announcing a proposal that would loosen restrictions around when officers can engage suspects in vehicle pursuits, cut down on the amount of paperwork officers have to file when they use force and let police fly drones. It would also require the commission to hold public meetings at every police station before changing policy.

“We want reforms to our police department, but unfortunately, members of the Police Commission have gone way too far,” Breed said Tuesday.

Tensions have been rising among members of the commission since Carter-Oberstone, who was appointed by Breed, began feuding with the mayor publicly late last year.

The breaking point came when Carter-Oberstone split from Breed and voted against naming Yee as president of the commission. The vote meant that Breed had lost the control mayors typically enjoy over the body, getting to appoint four of its seven members. 

The feud led to Carter-Oberstone accusing Breed’s office of pressuring him to take actions that he feared would derail a policy he had proposed to ban officers from making certain traffic stops.

It was also revealed that Breed’s office had directed Carter-Oberstone and many of the mayor’s other appointees to sign undated resignation letters, which he believed could be used against him.

At the meeting Wednesday, Carter-Obertsone said he supported many of the things Breed proposed with her measure in principle and that the commission had either already accomplished or was working toward addressing the issues she raised. But he said the mayor did not reach out to the commission before her announcement for input.

“That’s because this proposal is not so much about public safety as it is about politics,” Carter-Oberstone said. “It's about blaming the commission.”

That was as far as Carter-Oberstone got before he was interrupted.

The deputy city attorney at the meeting said commissioners should not discuss matters not on the agenda and that commissioners are not able to use city resources to advocate for or against a ballot measure.

Reached via text, Walker said she walked out of the meeting because a “Brown Act violation was happening.”

“He was discussing a ballot measure,” Walker wrote. “He was discussing something not on the agenda. Both illegal.”

Yee did not respond to an inquiry about why he walked out.

Carter-Oberstone told The Standard that he was commenting on Breed’s proposed changes to commission policies and procedures, which he called an “appropriate topic of discussion.”

“Some commissioners apparently wished to silence an open and frank discussion on these important matters of public interest,” he said.

The meeting was halted for several minutes before resuming.

This is not the first time members of the commission have walked out of the meeting. In 2019, three commissioners appointed by the Board of Supervisors walked out over a vote on who would lead the commission, accusing their colleagues of being pawns of the mayor.