San Francisco police car driving on a street between parked cars
Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

The San Francisco Police Officers Association, which has been bargaining for more than a year over a new policy restricting “pretextual” traffic stops, declared an impasse in negotiations today, claiming the policy violates state law. 

The policy, which would limit police officers’ ability to stop drivers for a few specific low-level infractions, has been strongly opposed by the union since its inception in 2022 by the city’s Police Commission, which sets policy for the San Francisco Police Department. The stops have disproportionately been used as a tactic to search and question Black and Latinx drivers, who experience disproportionately higher uses of force and killings by police. 

Labor negotiations, known as “meet-and-confer,” allow for the union to raise concerns if the policy could affect the terms of its labor contract. But historically, this process has been used to stall policies that the union dislikes. In this case, the union claims the pretext-stop policy “unlawfully imposes restrictions” on law enforcement by dictating which vehicle codes they should enforce.

David Rizk, a former federal public defender who has done extensive police-reform work with the San Francisco Bar Association, called the latest declaration a “stall tactic” from the union “beyond grasping at straws.”

“All policing and all law enforcement activity reflects priorities; it has to,” Rizk said, pointing to priorities like the fentanyl crisis, and deprioritized crimes like jaywalking. “The idea that the Police Commission and the police department cannot set priorities about what’s important for them to pursue to protect the public safety of the community is completely backwards. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Deputy public defender Brian Cox, who has advocated for the policy as a member of the Coalition to End Biased Stops, said the union’s announcement was disappointing but unsurprising. “That’s the POA playbook: fight tooth and nail to not implement policy changes that have proven to reduce disparities and harms, particularly to communities of color,” he said. 

Cox said he expects the union to pursue arbitration and lawsuits, as it has with past policies it has opposed

Advocates for the policy have been calling for the Police Commission — which approved the policy in January 2023 after months of meetings with the community and the police department — to declare an impasse and push the policy through.

Just this week, the Coalition to End Biased Stops, a group of more than 110 civil rights and community groups, urged the commission to end negotiations and move forward. The policy was on the commission’s agenda in a closed session earlier this week.

As the majority of commissioners have publicly championed the new pretext-stop policy, and it was approved in a unanimous vote, it is unclear why the oversight body has not yet declared an impasse. The commission has, in the past, declared an impasse for other stalled policies, like the use-of-force policy in 2016, and the body-worn camera policy in 2019. 

The pretext-stop policy would prohibit stops for offenses like a broken tail light, a missing front license plate, or a recently expired registration tag. Similar policies have been adopted and seen success in places like North Carolina and Washington.

Yesterday, the commission posted a new version of the policy, with negligible changes made over the past year of so-called negotiations. 

“Your collaborative, community-focused process contrasts starkly with the tactics adopted by the POA, who continue to exploit the secretive meet and confer process to delay implementation of the DGO,” the Coalition’s letter this week read. “Nearly a year ago, each of you voted to send the policy to meet and confer. That makes sense: Many of you have, for years, loudly, publicly criticized SFPD for its unacceptably high racial disparities in stops.”

But the commission did not move to end negotiations this week; the union did. 

In its announcement, the union claimed that the city is “prohibited” from implementing the policy changes until the “appropriate impasse procedures,” such as binding arbitration, are complete. 

The City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on whether this is accurate. 

One commissioner, Kevin Benedicto, however, said he “strongly” disagrees with the police union’s assessment that the commission has overstepped. 

The pretext-stop policy, “adopted unanimously by the Police Commission more than a year ago, is fully within the Commission’s authority to set policy and priorities for SFPD,” Benedicto said. “The data is clear that these low-value pretext stops waste our scarce law enforcement resources and cause disproportionate harms to the community. San Francisco joins numerous jurisdictions around the country that are taking steps to limit this practice.” 

Follow Us

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.

Join the Conversation


    1. Marcos,

      Now that’s the Marcos we all remember !!

      A week ago you said you wouldn’t run cause they’d whack you.

      Your fear gone now ?

      Woooohooo !

      Hey, we’ll lose cause we always do but at least fight em.


      votes. Sign in to vote
  1. The SFPD has been failing to ticket traffic infractions at all – of course they should only be prioritizing the ones that actually get people killed instead of using these old school racist pretextual stops. This is actually policies that should have been implemented beginning with the “Focus on the Five” starting in 2015 –
    notice the difference in numbers since then. From 10530 tickets in Jan 2014 to 336 total tickets in Dec 2023 – is this a work stoppage or how does the POA explain that difference?

    votes. Sign in to vote
  2. Clearly visible valid license plates are important for crime prevention and investigations. If the regular police aren’t going to be stopping for these infractions, then the SFMTA Parking Control Officers should be ticketing the hell out of these cars. Every day in the city I see illegal plastic covered license plates, obviously fake temporary plates, and several years out of date registration stickers. Not cool.

    votes. Sign in to vote
  3. again the para-militarized sfpoa continues to assert power and control over the civilian oversight. all the world’s militarys reject civilian oversight because they enjoy killing humans. it’s in their nature and by design to use a gun or other weapon against any perceived threat (including reigning in their power).
    the only solution to ending the dominance of the sfpd is to disarm them just like the city has disarmed all its citizens.

    votes. Sign in to vote
  4. Put it on the ballot and let voters decide.

    Crime is less popular than one would think from reading Mission Local and the comments it allows.

    votes. Sign in to vote
  5. Eleni,

    As evinced by Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone at the Police Commission two nights ago, that Commission does not set Policy, it only reviews the DGO’s passed on to them by the SFPD top brass and created by their own chosen Sworn cop Experts and belongs 99.9% to the cops.

    Go to SFGTV Archives and call up Police Commission 2-7-24 and go to 3:09:00.

    Max says it better than I can and should be Mayor.


    votes. Sign in to vote
Leave a comment
Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *