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Gutting Police Oversight and Spying on San Franciscans? Vote No on Prop E

Proposition E on San Francisco’s March 2024 ballot would gut our basic civil rights under the guise of crime-fighting and give a troubled police department the green light to increase racial profiling, use force inappropriately, and target marginalized communities for enhanced surveillance.


It is a long list of proposed changes about how police - and the oversight of police - operate in San Francisco, especially in marginalized communities of color.


If passed, this measure would reverse years of slow and hard fought progress to add checks and balances to a troubled police department. A Department of Justice audit in 2016 gave 272 recommendations for improvement, most of which are still unaddressed. Prop E does nothing to improve SFPD’s dismal crime case clearance rates - the frequency at which the police make an arrest and refer the case for prosecution. 

  

To get into the details of the provision and analyze these proposed changes: 


Use of Spying Technology against San Franciscans and Communities of Color


Prop E overrides the 2019 city law banning the use of facial recognition technology by any city department, including police. It also suspends for one year the requirement for the supervisors to approve the use of any kind of spying technology, and the requirement for a policy detailing how the tech is to be used, before it is approved for deployment. If Prop E had been in effect in 2022, San Francisco police would have deployed robots armed with lethal force and would be using them today.


Prop E specifically authorizes the use of drones and public city-owned cameras against San Franciscans and voids the existing prohibition on adding facial recognition technology to these kinds of equipment. Because facial recognition technology provides instant identification of any person and has been documented to have difficulty accurately identifying people with darker skin tones, women and young people, the technology has already resulted in half a dozen known cases of people being arrested for crimes they did not commit due to faulty facial recognition matches. 


Undermining the Power of the Police Commission and Protection of Civil Rights


The San Francisco Police Commission is the city’s civilian oversight board which reviews police policies and activities on behalf of all residents. Under Proposition E, the Commission would become nearly powerless to set policy for the police department due to greatly increased requirements for bureaucracy around community input, delaying policy changes for years and removing input where it is needed most - in the oversight of the police and their legal actions.


Changes aimed at protecting civil rights, like the recent effort to limit the practice of police officers stopping cars for minor infractions in order to use those small things to detain people and search vehicles, could take years to move forward, and potentially not be done at all, even with overwhelming evidence. The Police Commission studied traffic stops in San Francisco and determined they are overwhelmingly directed at Black and Brown drivers, greatly in excess of percentages of the overall driver populations, and that these traffic stops did not result in greater findings of contraband materials like guns and drugs. 


Substitution of Body Camera Video for Detailed Use of Force Reports


Currently, use of force reporting requires police to file a detailed use of force report with any body camera video when they use their weapons or physically use their bodies to restrain or assault people. This detailed reporting allows analysis of whether police encounters are appropriate or violating policy and whether there is disparate use of force, including weapons or physical assault, against marginalized communities.


Under Prop E, police can now just use the body camera video in place of a detailed report, which means that it will be much harder, if not impossible, to have transparency into the use of force by police officers and to assemble use of force statistics. 


In 2023, the SF Standard used use of force reports to report that 27% of all use of force incidents in the past five years were against unhoused people. Use of force reporting also documented that in 2022, SFPD used force on Black people twenty-five times as often as they used force on white people. This kind of analysis would likely be impossible to do in the future if Prop E is adopted.


Allowing High-Speed Car Chases through City Streets for Minor Crimes


The Police Commission's sensible decision to restrict high-speed car chases to violent felonies with imminent danger could be overturned under Prop E. This means minor crimes like misdemeanors or non-violent felonies could spark these dangerous pursuits. Chief Scott and experts back the current policy, which prioritizes public safety. Reversing it puts innocent bystanders at risk and ignores the fact that high-speed chases are a poor fit for the Mission and other crowded urban areas with heavy foot traffic. 


Given that this entire measure impacts communities of color for the worse, Prop E deserves your no vote next week.



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