A police car and police line yellow tape.
A police SUV parked along Precita Avenue. Photo by Taytum Wymer, June 12, 2023

This is the first of a two-part series detailing the possible effects of Proposition E, Mayor London Breed’s police department ballot measure. You can read the second part here.

Proposition E, Mayor London Breed’s wide-ranging and well-financed ballot measure expanding police powers and limiting oversight in San Francisco, has been touted as a quick fix to allow police to deter crime. 

Police officers, supporters say, would be freed up from cumbersome requirements to do their jobs. 

“It’s a measured kind of moving the pendulum back a little bit, but it’s still tons of focus on criminal justice, doing the right thing, bringing in people to be participants,” said Chris Larsen, a tech billionaire and one of the measure’s top donors, referring to Proposition E’s new public-input requirements.

The measure, which will go before voters on March 5, has already garnered some $1.4 million in backing, not only from Breed’s supporters, but also from her political opponent in the November mayoral race, Daniel Lurie, who appropriated it as his own.

Larsen, who was also the largest individual donor opposing the recall of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin, said Prop. E could counterbalance criminal-justice reforms that went too far after the murder of George Floyd. 

And, he said, the measure could sate the public’s demand for action on crime, and stave off the adoption of harsher and more reactionary measures. 

“If we don’t do things like that, though, people are going to get so mad. They’re going to do dumb things like ‘three strikes and you’re out,’ which set back criminal-justice reform by 20 years in this state.” 

Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, say it would eliminate police reforms and undo critical oversight guardrails, opening the door to civil rights violations. 

They say the measure’s changes to a wide range of issues, including police use of force, car chases, surveillance cameras and police accountability, are far from measured. More apropos terms, they say, would be sloppy, hasty and reckless. 

Matthew Guariglia, senior policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation called the measure a “kitchen sink approach.” 

“It’s about politics, it’s not about public safety,” said Matt Cagle, a technology and civil liberties attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “We could be having a conversation right now about how to take a scalpel and work on policies to make the city safer. … Instead, this takes a sledgehammer to existing safeguards and reforms, and that’s not going to make San Francisco safer.” 

The ACLU has given $200,000 to oppose the measure, but it is being outspent seven to one.

Still other Prop. E supporters know far less: Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch and brief CEO of OpenAI, gave $49,000 in support of the ballot measure but told Mission Local he was not familiar with it. 

Asked why he donated to Prop. E, Shear said he was surprised to learn that he had done this, and would not say whether he even supported the measure. “Quite embarrassing, to be honest, I usually have a very good idea of where my political money goes!” Shear said. 

Reforming police reform

Prop. E takes aim at the Police Commission, the primary oversight body for the police department. It would roll back policies — many of which came in response to a 2016 federal review of the SFPD spurred by the killing of Mario Woods — intended to prevent police abuses and ensure accountability. 

The measure would lift reporting requirements for uses of force, one of the primary areas of needed improvement identified by the U.S. Department of Justice. Under Prop. E, officers would only be required to report force if they draw their gun, or if force results in (or is believed to result in) an injury. If an officer uses another weapon, like a foam-bullet gun or a baton, and its target does not report an injury, the officer would have discretion over whether to file a report. 

“Understanding precisely how and when force can be used is a critical component of officer safety,” the Department of Justice report reads. “It also has significant impact on the communities that are policed.”

The police department has struggled to shift the extreme racial disparities in its uses of force, and Prop. E’s changes could cloud those disparities. Police used force 25 times more often on Black people than on white people at the end of 2022, according to the department’s own data. Even with the current reporting requirements, the department has been accused of hiding those disparities by leaving them out of presentations to the commission. 

Prop. E would allow for officers to stop reporting certain instances of force; Breed and police top brass say the requirements are too cumbersome

Breed has, since 2022, turned on the Police Commission after her own appointee began voting out of line with her other hand-picked members. She now claims the commission stands in the way of policing: “Prop. E prevents the Police Commission from micromanaging the Chief of Police,” read her official argument for the measure. 

“The functional outcome of all of that is to just hide the number, the frequency, the type of force that they’re using on residents,” said Yoel Haile, the director of the Criminal Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California. 

Prop. E would also limit all forms of reporting by police officers to 20 percent of their on-duty time. But it is unclear how often officers spent reporting in the first place: Police Chief Bill Scott said this week that the department does not track all officers’ administrative time versus their time on the street.

“We don’t have a handle on what those times are,” Scott said at the Feb. 14 Police Commission meeting. 

Secondly, Prop. E would change a 2013 policy on police vehicle chases by allowing officers to chase those suspected of committing any felony or “violent” misdemeanors; right now, vehicle chases are only allowed for violent felonies. 

In cases of imminent danger, however, the existing policy already leaves chases of felony or misdemeanor suspects to an officer’s discretion.

More than one in three San Francisco police chases over recent years ended in injury or death, according to California Highway Patrol data

New tasks with no budget

At the same time, the Police Commission, which virtually operates without a budget, would take on a host of rigid new responsibilities. 

If Prop. E passes, the commission will have to hold meetings in all 11 districts any time it wants to create or edit a policy, and setting SFPD policy is the commission’s charter-mandated purpose. The chief could choose to waive this requirement, which essentially means the chief can stall policy by creating a longer process. 

“You have a police commission that’s actually trying to do its job, while providing real oversight and accountability of the department, regardless of what the mayor’s position is,” said Haile. Already, he said, the city’s powerful police union works to hamstring the commission when the commission attempts to pass policies the union disagrees with. 

Proposition E would add another hurdle, he said. 

Still, supporters like Larsen see this as more fair. “You’re going to hear from the community and whether or not what you’re proposing makes sense or doesn’t make sense. …That’s more democratic than what you see now,” Larsen said. 

The commission, which has four seats appointed by the mayor and three by the Board of Supervisors, “just has too much power,” according to Larsen. Instead, he said, that power “should be in the hands of leadership: The mayor, the police department — with input from the community.” 

(But, under Prop. E, police themselves would not be held to this standard.)

Already, the police commission does seek public feedback on its major policy changes. The commission meets three weeks a month, every drafted policy is posted online for public viewing, and the commission often holds meetings with stakeholders on new policies. Through 2022, for instance, commissioners held several working group and community listening sessions over a new traffic-enforcement policy. 

Larsen, for his part, said he was unaware of that process. 

It’s easy to see why some donors and voters are confused. Misinformation about the Police Commission has proliferated, some of it coming from leading tech figures like Garry Tan, the president of tech incubator Y Combinator. Among other fallacies, Tan claimed that the Board of Supervisors controls the body, and could “disband” it with a simple up or down vote.  

Others, like Democratic County Central Committee candidate Laurance Lee, have publicly stated that the commission prevents police chases. But police are instructed to weigh street-safety concerns when deciding to pursue a fleeing vehicle, a policy that was created in 2013 by then-police chief Greg Suhr, in concert with the police commission.

Haile said that many local residents have “legitimate concern and frustration with crime,” adding that he and his family have been victims of petty crime in Oakland. But reactions like Prop. E, he said, are misguided. 

“What a lot of politicians, including the mayor, are doing is trying to exploit that frustration … to justify handing more power to SFPD,” Haile said. This, he continues, will lead to more people being incarcerated: “It’s an easy and attractive solution, except for the fact that it’s been tried, and failed.” 

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REPORTER. Eleni reports on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim more than 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. The problem with police ineffectiveness is not external restraints – it’s the police themselves. Someone aptly wrote: “SFPD has effectively been on strike since 2017.” This was supported by the data showing traffic citations decreasing from 12,000 to 300 over a few years.

    More recently, in the wake of George Floyd and BLM, the cops simply said, “oh, you don’t want us out there doing things? OK.” Instead of taking the lesson to be, “be thoughtful about your jobs and responsive to the community,” they took it as, “sit in your office, collect your salary, and plan for retirement.” I’ll come back to this a hundred times over the next election cycle: The Mission/Castro/Noe Valley district has ZERO police on the streets after 9 p.m. That’s policy. They’re ALL in the office, responding – maybe – to calls.

    We do not need Prop E, we do not need a bigger force, we do not need to throw money at the problem, we need City leadership that says, “get off your asses.”

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    1. It’s really true. These rules to ensure that they’re not discriminating in their use of force and enforcement requires them to do like a little bit of extra paperwork. And the response has essentially been: “If I have to document anything, I’m just not going to do any of it.” While it’s true that they are ALSO very short staffed and this is an additional burden on their time, it’s not like they aren’t raking in INSANE overtime making like $200k a year in the more senior ranks because of this.

      The likely reason the police hate all this paperwork and oversight is not just because it requires them to sit down and type on a computer, it’s because it creates an accountability mechanism where they have to justify their use of force and generates stats that can be objectively counted/evaluated. There’s a huge resistance to being held accountable. It makes zero sense that the police even have a union that’s fighting these reforms. They’re public servants for pete’s sake.

      Before anyone replies saying that the police are just hamstrung and really just want to get out there and do their job, definitely brush up on your SF police and police union history from 1975: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Police_Department

      They went on an illegal strike, held the city hostage, carried their service weapons and used them in their protests, got drunk and started illegally arresting counter-protestors, likely planted a bomb at the Mayor’s house, and then the Mayor gave them everything they wanted. This is the legacy of our current police force. Still holding the city hostage…

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  2. The police department is so dramatically understaffed that it is impossible to do anything. They need to hire 700 officers, and Prop B (sponsored by progressive candidates) would impose a tax and put off the hiring those officers until another ballot measure in some future election is approved. That’s why we should all be supporting Prop A and not Prop B. Vote Prop A.

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    1. That’s what they say, isn’t it? But what if it isn’t true? We’re roughly the size of Seattle, and have 300 more officers. Columbus, Ohio has about 300 more than us, but a population of another 100k. There are many similar-size cities with comparable forces (yes, some have another hundred or so).

      To the extent there is a shortage, how does that explain a 95% decrease in traffic citations? I promise we haven’t lost 95% of the force.

      The reason you never see police on the street isn’t because we don’t have any. It’s because their management is happy to let them do nothing. Unfortunately, they’ve gotten quite used to it. I’m not sure how we get them to start doing their jobs again.

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  3. Larsen, for his part, said he was unaware of that process.

    this sums up everything chris larsen knows about the police commission. what a joke.

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    1. You’re against crime, unless it’s committed by a Police officer, apparently. Prop E is about reducing police accountability and oversight.

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    2. Everyone is against crime!
      No one is in favor of crime.
      But let’s vote for something that works not something dumb that clearly will cause more harm than good.
      Don’t be stupid, vote no.

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  4. How was the estimate of “more than one in three San Francisco police chases over recent years ended in injury or death” calculated? The chart in the linked article shows 38 total injuries and fatalities out of 150 pursuits. Not great, but far less than 1/3.

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  5. Both sides of criminal enforcement needs reforms. If you are looking at this from only one side of the cup, instead of both sides, this is wrong. There are has to be balance for both sides to resolve the crimalitity problem. The cops and police commissioners have to be able to do their jobs. There has to be checks and balances on both sides for things to work. While both sides are arguing, the city is losing its taxbase (employers and employees), businesses are closing or leaving, city government will eventually cut services, implement other cost cutting procedures, citizens are leaving are not good. If you look across the bay, Oakland is becoming more like a ghost town. If this something you want SF to become, you are doing a great job of being a problem rather than a solution of your own doing. The blame is the fault of poor city governance, which has to make compromising corrective actions for its taxpayers and businesses if really cares about its future. If you don’t this soon, expect to be like Oakland that had so much potential to be more but lost it due to many bad years of poor governance.

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  6. The police union has all the power in SF. They need to be broken. I don’t know if its possible but a mayor (whoever that will be) needs to put them on the sidelines and call in the National Guard for law & order. Break it and start over. Otherwise, this (lack of a PO ‘doing their job’) will continue for another 50 years. Also, to one of the points above, I have seen firsthand the true lack of qualified candidates for the academy. The diversity policy is a joke.

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  7. The police union in this city has been corrupt and a bully for years. These are the people who wrote E and exactly why people should vote against it.

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  8. Campers,

    SFPD is more like that Mob Army in ‘Blazing Saddles’ than a real Police Force.

    They put 10 Officers on Foot Patrol out of 2,300 and brag about their Foot Patrols.

    They told Police Commission Vice President Max Carter-Oberstone that getting him some data he asked for would take 3 months and he sat down and hammered available Public Records on Google and got the stuff in 20 minutes.

    Worse thing is that they very recently stopped arresting felons (I’d call beating a 14 Mission Bus driver bloody a ‘felony’) standing right in front of them to make Chesa Boudin look bad.

    Cause their Union told them to.

    They don’t listen to the Chief.

    He was appointed by the Mayor and is an LA Out-of-Towner who didn’t attend a Catholic San Francisco High School and Gascon laughed and didn’t believe it when he heard that’s how they picked Command Staff then found out it was true.

    They are like a 2,300 Student High School that lasts for 30 to 35 years.

    They need an Elected Police Chief to get this directionless gang running around carrying guns.

    I walk through 16th and Mission at least couple times a day cause I’m a Local at 14th and Valencia and nosey and the cops should establish a Home Base even if it’s just a car and then one stand there and the others fan out in different directions for a block each around the BART Plaza and meet people.

    They all just stand around like a bunch of ducks quacking to each other.

    I know some of em and they are nice dedicated guys and gals.

    And, for gods sake they don’t know any better.

    They are poor led.

    Don’t give them or the Mayor any more power.

    I’m trying to get Lurie to offer to give up the Mayoral power to appoint the Police Chief if he’s elected and work for a Charter Amendment to make the position one responsible to the People at the Ballot Box.

    So far, he hasn’t taken any of my ideas but he’s leading in the polls so there’s that.

    No on E for so many many reasons, most of which because it gives the ‘Blazing Saddles’ gang more power.

    What’s that line ?

    Yeah …

    “Badge !!??!! I don’t need no STINKING Badge !!??!!

    Speaking of Lateral Transfers with Violent Pasts is another story …

    No on EEEEEEE

    Yes, on the Giants.

    Spring Training going yet ?



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  9. ” Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch and brief CEO of OpenAI, gave $49,000 in support of the ballot measure but told Mission Local he was not familiar with it.” Perfect. It could not be better said Emmett. You have so much money, $49,000 is chump change. We can’t expect a man of your eminence to bother himself with such trivialities. But you’re so brilliant, even your ignorance pays off. Relieving officers of the onerous task of reporting on use of force will open up plenty of time for video games. Ka-ching!!

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  10. Prop E is basically the wish list of the Police Officers Association. BigMoneySF either doesn’t know (Larsen) or doesn’t care (Tan, GrowSF) what the Police Commission is or what it does. This is a PR job for BigMoneySF which needs a big win this year (or maybe, with any luck, they will pull up stakes and head for Austin, or Fairfield). What restrictive reforms were instituted in SF after George Floyd Chris? Of course our beloved Mayor Breed is running a law-and-order campaign to get the cops, Republicans and money lenders on her sinking ship. Richard Nixon would be proud of you London.

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  11. This is great reporting. Thank you, Eleni.

    It’s very worrisome how individuals can donate large amounts of money without a proper context and knowledge of what they’re donating to. Even if they’re well intentioned, I think determining the outcome of an election because you have the financial resources is what’s really undemocratic here, to Mr. Larsen’s reasoning.

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  12. When it comes to the problems of policing, most of us are like valence electrons–farthest from the core of the issue, hanging out on the outer edge buzzing around, yet the ones who get together and make important if unstable and shifting bonds and reactions. We’re seemingly trapped in a national narrative of bouncing back and forth between perspectives as we collectively now seek to “counterbalance criminal-justice reforms that went too far after the murder of George Floyd,” a position Larsen himself evokes and embodies as someone who backed Boudin and now champions the police cause with vigor. As a former Bay Area police officer, homicide detective and patrol lieutenant myself who worked with a lot of dedicated, fair and “just” officers (the majority), anyone who works long enough from the inside with a mature and honest perspective also comes to see how the deeply embedded fabric of systemic injustice is woven at least from the times of failed Reconstruction and slave patrols through Jim Crow institutional supremacy and oppression. In addition to that larger chunk of officers who mean well and might even consider themselves anti-racist, yet who still inflict systemic evils on various minority groups a few times every shift, every department also has a solid minority–far greater than “a few rotten apples”–who get together and go out “n****r hunting” each shift, using their enormous power and discretion as street corner judges and enforcers (more power than any other actor in our entire governmental system) to make racially motivated petty and genuine stops, find excuses and consent for searches, and take whatever enforcement action they can–even if that’s just a small ticket today to turn into a search-and-arrest excuse tomorrow, perhaps by some other distant officer in another town, an unknown yet aligned member of this secret modern Klan. If this isn’t rejected for length and if you’ve made it this far, then a novel solution to appeal to both of SF’s extremes (progressives and so-called moderates): revive a shameful feature of our legal past that revisionist Karens everywhere are eager to bury and forget; impose the logic and formula of Dred Scott (ideally or aspirationally as a constitutional amendment, but starting locally perhaps) on police departments everywhere: 3/5 (three fifths) of each department’s sworn officers must be a racial minority or a woman, capping white male participation in any police department at 2 of 5. No more space here to argue its many nonobvious benefits in transforming the so far intractable racist shadow of American law enforcement, nor to address the obvious first complaints (such as is it just shifting administering racist systems onto the oppressed as new oppressors and so forth, or that it can’t pass a “strict scrutiny” challenge, which it can!), but offered here to plant a seed and start a new conversation. In any event, Prop E is not the solution and just continues to hide the ball (from ourselves in our own double consciousnesses and cognitive dissonances). We can’t change the system if we still deploy the Klan. Meanwhile, the modern metaphorical Klan is currently patrolling the streets in every Bay Area police department–not just Antioch–and if here, then everywhere. Do Black Lives Matter?

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  13. Prop E – any chance the PD will change their sloppy, lazy, sometimes criminal ways? I’m not seeing it, so what’s the point. Am voting NO.

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