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Due process, fairness, justice, and the Peace Officer Bill of Rights

There has been a major splash in the media recently about the Peace Officer Bill of Rights (POBOR) in California and a black eye for the San Francisco Police Department

I have now been retired for over ten years. I started working for the California Department of Corrections at the tag-end of 1980, just when collective bargaining for state employees was starting to move along. It was an “interesting” time for labor relations within state service in general and within CDC specifically.

There has been a major splash in the media recently about the Peace Officer Bill of Rights (POBOR) in California and a black eye for the San Francisco Police Department.

POBOR and due process plays a major role in this mess.

The SFPD Case
Some years ago the feds began a corruption investigation of an officer within the SFPD. In the course of that investigation they got access to a cell phone of that officer and discovered a very troubling pattern of text messages between a group of about eight officers within that department. Those texts were virulently racist and homophobic and grotesquely disrespectful. One of the results was that the DA has had to review hundreds and hundreds of convictions that these officers were involved in.

The administration of the SFPD may have become aware of these messages in December of 2012. They certainly became aware of them in court documents filed in February of 2014. They elected to take no action on them until April of 2015, at which time Chief Greg Suhr vowed to fire the eight officers involved and took disciplinary action against six others with a lesser level of involvement. Three of the officers recommended for termination resigned.

The court has just ruled that the department failed to act within the one year time limits of POBOR. One of the officers who resigned has applied for reinstatement. That reinstatement has been granted. The city has said they intend to appeal the ruling, which seems to be pretty solid based on existing law.

Enter, POBOR
The question then becomes this. Why does POBOR exist? Clearly I can’t speak to the specifics of the SFPD case. I can, however, speak with some knowledge as to how it affected CDC beginning back in the day. At that time the investigative staff appointments at the institutions were — by and large — home-boy positions. The investigator(s) sole qualification was often the fact that he was politically reliable (could be counted on to produce the “correct” result) and was the hunting or fishing buddy of the decision maker.

Clearly bogus investigations were run out for months (and months and months) as a form of harassment. Solid investigations were deliberately tanked to protect “kids.” Some of these investigations were incompetent to the point of embarrassment. One comes immediately to mind where an officer was investigated for allegedly passing forged meal tickets on days when he was on vacation out of state. The investigation continued and eventually adverse action started up even though it was obvious that the officer involved could not possibly have done it. Stories like this, true stories, are legion within the department.

POBOR was quite simply a completely justified reaction to institutionalized incompetence and unfairness within the investigation procedures of many law enforcement organizations with the state. The result was a set of fairly hard and fast rules, made necessary due to statute law. These rules force the peace officer employers to handle their business in a timely manner. It seems like in this particular case in San Francisco the outcome will be that several people will continue to be peace officers who the city probably really doesn’t want and almost certainly really shouldn’t have.

Had the SFPD acted in a timely fashion it would not be an issue. They didn’t, so it is.

Bob Walsh worked for 24 years with the California Department of Corrections at Deuel Vocational Institution located near Tracy, California. He retired in early 2005. Since then he has been taking classes, exercising his obsolete camera equipment, rusticating and writing for the PacoVilla web site which focuses on issues within what is now called the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr) and within the union representing CDCr employees, the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association (CCPOA).