Pubdate: Sun, 23 Apr 2006 Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA) Copyright: 2006 Hearst Communications Inc. Contact: http://www.sfgate.com/chronicle/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/388 Author: Joseph D. McNamara WHY SAN FRANCISCANS SHOULD FIGHT TO REINVENT THE SFPD 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.