Fresh force limits placed on SF police

After months of discussion over use of force policies, the San Francisco Police Commission unanimously approved a new policy Wednesday night that appeared to give community advocates and civil rights groups much of what they hoped for.

The commission voted 7-0 in favor of a compromise agreement reached between police and community advocates, with amendments including prohibitions on the use of carotid choke holds and firing at moving vehicles unless suspects pose a threat by means other than their vehicle.

The commission launched a review of police use of force policies shortly after the December shooting of Mario Woods in San Francisco’s Bayview District.

The shooting prompted widespread controversy after bystander videos circulating on the internet appeared to show Woods, who was armed with a knife, attempting to move away from the police and not actively threatening them when he was shot.

In the aftermath, department critics called for policies emphasizing de-escalation tactics and then-Police Chief Greg Suhr promised that officers would be encouraged to create “time and distance” when dealing with armed suspects.

In the weeks leading up to tonight’s scheduled vote, the commission was presented with a version of the policy backed by community groups and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, and a revised version submitted by the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

Differences in the two versions included both large policy disagreements and seemingly small differences in language, such as “minimal” versus “reasonable” use of force and the use of “shall,” indicating a policy is mandatory, instead of “should,” which would give officers more flexibility.

In the past few days, however, in meetings between the police union and members of the Office of Citizen Complaints and other organizations, a new compromise version was hammered out that representatives on both side said reflected “80 to 90” percent agreement.

Samara Marion, an OCC staff attorney who helped negotiate the deal, said the compromise version included the stronger “shall” language and called for the use of “minimal” force, as in the version backed by community advocates:

“What I see is a policy where de-escalation is front and center.”

Major areas of disagreement remained to be resolved by the commission, however, including the use of carotid holds, also known as choke holds, the raising of impact weapons over the head and policies around whether officers can shoot at moving vehicles.

The policy approved by the commission must be taken to the police union for negotiation, according to both state law and city charter.

Commission President Suzy Loftus pushed police union officials for a commitment tonight to not renegotiate the areas of agreement in the contract.

Union President Martin Halloran said before tonight’s vote that he could not legally make that commitment without seeing how the commission voted, although given the “good faith” efforts made so far, he thought it probable.