Pubdate: Sun, 23 Apr 2006
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2006 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Joseph D. McNamara


It doesn't take a team of rocket scientists to discover why the San
Francisco Police Department staggers from one scandal to another.
Merely paging through a basic book on police management reveals that
the SFPD violates basic principles of administration.

For example, most detectives (inspectors) are selected on the basis of
seniority, not skills and, once appointed, are rarely evaluated and
receive little or no direction. Sergeants, lieutenants, captains and
other supervisors are promoted based upon test scores, their past
performance ignored. Some of those promoted have such atrocious
disciplinary records that it is a wonder that they're still on the
force. It is no surprise that they fail to properly oversee
subordinates or to serve as professional role models.

Historically, the primary characteristics of San Francisco police
chiefs have been political loyalty to the mayor, rather than records
of management experience and leadership. But none of these
dysfunctional traits exists in a vacuum.

Beautiful, dynamic San Francisco has never been known as a
good-government city. It has charmed millions of people with its
naughty reputation and rough-and-tumble politics, except for those
unfortunate enough to have had nasty experiences with the city's cops.

Despite periodic outbursts of anger at publicized police misconduct,
the city has never possessed a sustained climate to create the impetus
for the bruising political fight required to bring about fundamental
police reform. Token gestures, such as creating a citizens' review
board or announcing new training programs or a shakeup of the brass,
have not sufficiently changed the culture of an inward-looking police
department. When the public can't tell the good guys and gals from
lawbreakers, people hostile to the police won't report crime, help
provide evidence, testify as witnesses, and, when serving as jurors,
believe police testimony.

A police department without public trust can't do its job. The chief
and other top brass may wear stars upon their shoulders, but San
Francisco, like New York and some other cities, has a "strong mayor"
system. Police chiefs who offend the mayor are not likely to remain in
office, even though they are theoretically independent professionals
and/or under the supervision of a board of police commissioners.

A rigid civil-service tenure system, state laws such as the Police
Officers' Bill of Rights, mandated arbitration of discipline and labor
conflicts, civil-service commission and court reviews of personnel
actions, and labor contracts approved by politicians more interested
in advancing their careers than the public good, make it impossible
for San Francisco police to meet the professional standards maintained
by most large cities in California. It is useless to bash politicians
who, after all, have to get elected and don't want to be accused of
being anti-police and soft on crime.

In the private sector, management and labor have to balance their
negotiations. If either achieves excessive powers, the company is
unable to compete and goes out of business. Jobs, unions and
management all disappear. But government is a monopoly, funded by
taxes. It can silently trade away essential management power without
fear of being replaced by a competitor.

The police hierarchy is well aware of how the game is played, and
always keeps one eye on City Hall. The sad result for the thousands of
San Francisco police officers who daily risk their lives is that it is
obvious that who you know is more important to your career than what
you know and what you achieve.

Only a determined and aroused public will force the mayor, the Board
of Supervisors, the police brass and the police union to negotiate the
fundamental changes necessary to operate a modern police department:
One that is fair to the officers, while still committed to its
indispensable duty to protect life and property.

The end result will not only benefit the people of San Francisco, but
also greatly increase officers' pride and job satisfaction.


Joseph D. McNamara, a retired police chief of San Jose, is a research
fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.