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San Francisco police watchdog budget cuts will hinder investigations, union says

The cuts could hamper independent investigations of police misconduct, investigators say.

San Francisco police officers patrol Union Square at the opening celebration of the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

More than half of San Francisco police shootings investigated by the city’s cop watchdog agency could be hampered under proposed cuts that will further undermine an already weakened web of police oversight.

That’s according to a Feb. 28 letter the union that represents the city's police oversight agency sent to their bosses at the Department of Police Accountability and the Police Commission.

The department, an independent agency that reports to the Police Commission, plans to make cuts for on-call pay equaling $101,000, which investigators say will mostly impact after-hours pay, which is when most of the historical police shootings occur.

"If we are removed from the response to after-hour [officer-involved shooting] incidents, the DPA will be severely challenged to fulfill its mandate,” said the letter signed by Leroy Wilson, president of the Transport Workers Union, Local 200, which represents the department's investigators. 

Investigators with the agency respond to police shooting incidents alongside police and the District Attorney’s Office to find witnesses and surveillance footage. They also walk the crime scene and observe department-led officer interviews after the shooting.

Body cam
San Francisco police body worn camera footage captured the fatal shooting of 37-year-old Marc Child on June 22, 2023.

For instance, the Aug. 28, 2023, police shooting of Richard Everett in the Tenderloin happened at 11 p.m. In another recent shooting, Marc Child was shot on 31st Avenue at around 3 a.m. in the Richmond District. 

Since 2016, The agency has been tasked by voters to investigate police shootings that injure or kill someone. According to the union, the number of police shootings has been cut in half since the agency was given that mandate.

Paul Henderson, who heads the agency, said that any cuts will impact its operations. But up until now, it has attempted to isolate the belt-tightening by not filling empty positions. 

“We try to prioritize our most serious cases, which are the [officer-involved shootings], but there's no way for cuts not to impact our work,” he said.

"In addition to the DPA’s proposed cut, there have been other efforts to roll back oversight."

Department of Police Accountability union leader

So far, the agency has proposed an overall cut of more than $1 million as the city government faces massive budget tightening. The agency’s 10% proposed cuts, or $730,000, come on top of another proposed midyear cut of 5% as a contingency in case further cuts were required. 

Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto said that he supports a completely funded police oversight agency so that it can fully investigate police wrongdoing. 

“When we talk about ensuring public safety in San Francisco, we have to look at the whole system,” he said. 

Since DA Brooke Jenkins took office, the unit inside the DA’s Office that investigates and charges police for any criminal misconduct, the Independent Investigations Bureau, has dismissed every police shooting case that former DA Chesa Boudin filed. In addition, former DA staffers say, Jenkins has worked to declaw the unit that investigates such cases.

A police commissioner speaks at a meeting.
Commissioner Kevin Benedicto speaks at a Police Commission meeting at San Francisco City Hall on March 1, 2023. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

In recent months, the city's police oversight body has been in a fight with the DA over how and when the agencies share information in their overlapping investigations of police shootings. 

The DA has claimed her office has been cautious about sharing information, claiming they want to keep the integrity of their own investigations intact. 

But the oversight agency contends no matter the rationale, the result is that their investigations have been obstructed.

"In addition to the DPA’s proposed cut, there have been other efforts to roll back oversight. The District Attorney’s Office has prevented the SFPD from providing the DPA basic documentation for [officer-involved shooting] investigations,” the letter from the union said. "The only timely information available now is what we can gather during the initial response.”

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at