Sheriff Department Oversight Board and Inspector General
Establishes a Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board and an Office of Inspector General to investigate misconduct and make recommendations regarding complaints against the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.
What the Measure Would Do
Proposition D creates two new oversight bodies for the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department. The Office of Inspector General would investigate misconduct within the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board would advise and make policy recommendations to the sheriff and Board of Supervisors concerning department operations, complaints against employees and contractors, and in-custody deaths. The oversight board would have seven members, four appointed by the Board of Supervisors and three by the mayor. The sheriff would retain the authority to determine any disciplinary actions against deputies and other departmental staff.
The Controller’s Office estimates Prop. D would cost approximately $3 million annually. This is primarily due to the cost of staffing the Office of Inspector General, which is estimated at $2.8 million per year for 14 full-time staff and associated overhead. The measure does not mandate a set staffing level for the department.
The Sheriff’s Department primarily staffs the county jails, in addition to providing court security and supporting other civic judgement processes. Sheriff's departments across the state serve this function in addition to providing law enforcement services for unincorporated land. The positions are established in the California Constitution and are separate from the policies and law that govern police departments.
Establishing civilian oversight over sheriff’s departments has been rare due in part to this constitutional independence; sheriffs are authorized to carry out their own investigations into misconduct. In recent years, however, sheriff oversight has increased around the state due to heightened public awareness of sheriff misconduct. In 2016, Los Angeles County established a sheriff civilian oversight commission, and other counties have created inspector general offices to investigate incidents involving sheriff misconduct. Pending state legislation (AB 1185) would codify counties’ ability to establish civilian sheriff oversight with subpoena powers.
In May of 2019, the Sheriff’s Department entered into an agreement with the Department of Police Accountability (DPA) to investigate several existing high-profile allegations of misconduct. This agreement was formed shortly after it became public knowledge that the Sheriff’s Department mishandled its internal investigation into deputies accused of arranging gladiator-style fights between people incarcerated at San Francisco County Jail. The botched internal investigation resulted in the District Attorney’s Office dropping charges against the deputies. Prior to the agreement with DPA, the Sheriff’s Department was responsible for investigating complaints against its employees and sworn officers and determining any disciplinary action. Since this agreement was formed, the DPA has only investigated a set of approximately 35 cases, as directed by the sheriff. In August of 2020, the relationship between DPA and Sheriff’s Department was modified in an effort to strengthen the provision of oversight. A key addition to the agreement includes the ability for incarcerated people and the public to file complaints directly with DPA, as opposed to the sheriff assigning cases to DPA.
Due to the administrative burden and cost of establishing a new investigative office, some have suggested continuing to modify and strengthen the Sheriff’s Department’s agreement with DPA rather than establish the Office of Inspector General. Others argue that the agreement with DPA has not provided the Sheriff’s Department with sufficient oversight and that it is not well enough resourced or positioned to provide oversight for both the San Francisco Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department.
Prop. D was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors and must be on the ballot because it is a charter amendment. The measure requires a simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) to pass.
By increasing oversight and accountability for the Sheriff’s Department, Prop. D aims to strengthen the rights and protections of incarcerated people. People of color are overrepresented in our criminal justice system and were largely the victims in the 2019 allegations that led to the Sheriff’s Department’s agreement with the DPA. Increasing oversight of the Sheriff’s Department would strengthen protections for a population that experiences prejudice, violence and inhumane treatment in the criminal justice system.
- A civilian oversight body is key to preventing misconduct and discriminatory practices and restoring trust in law enforcement and government. This measure would help ensure that sufficient resources are put toward oversight of the Sheriff’s Department.
- Prop. D would create a process for incarcerated people and the public to file complaints directly with an investigative office. By establishing a dedicated staff and separate structure, this measure would ensure that oversight of the Sheriff’s Department is consistent over time, regardless of who leads the department or other influences.
- Creating a new investigatory body instead of using the DPA could help to ensure sufficient resources are devoted to the oversight of both the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department.
- Increasing oversight over the Sheriff’s Department could help the city avoid future lawsuits.
- Prop. D introduces a new annual expense in a time of extreme budgetary constraints and could be duplicative. The modified agreement between DPA and the Sheriff’s Department addressed a number of the shortcomings of the original partnership.
- Continuing to use DPA for oversight could support consistency in disciplinary action taken for police and sheriff misconduct.
It would be ideal to have one existing oversight body with the resources and processes in place to carry out consistent, high-functioning oversight for both the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department. It is our assessment that DPA is not currently resourced or positioned to provide the investigatory power and oversight that the Sheriff’s Department needs. SPUR believes the compelling need for transparency and oversight overrides concerns about cost and efficiency.