San Francisco mayor wants to expand police powers via ballot measure; critics blast idea

San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Tuesday announced a new ballot measure for the March election, which critics began blasting even before the idea was formally announced.

The San Francisco Chronicle first reported Breed plans to ask voters to expand police powers by making changes to what the Police Commission can do.

"Now we are going to the voters and telling the voters of San Francisco, this is what's happening, these are the basic tools we need to improve public safety in San Francisco," said Breed.

The ballot measure would ease restrictions on when police can chase suspects by car, reduce officers’ paperwork requirements and give them greater ability to use surveillance technology, like drones. 

A ballot measure goes around the board of supervisors on purpose, Breed pointed out. 

"People are coming out with one single message" ‘Yes, we want reforms to our police department,’ but unfortunately, members of the police commission have gone way too far," Breed said. 

She added that many of the police commission rules are unnecessary and border on micromanagement. 

Speaking at Alamo Square, Breed said she wanted to make changes in the current system because the city is now a place where thieves break into cars and police are hamstrung.

"Can you imagine going to a city, a beautiful iconic city like San Francisco, and all of a sudden your entire trip is ruined because your passport is stolen? This has been going on for far too long?" 

She said she picked the Alamo Square spot because there was a recent car break-in, where police allowed the car to speed off.

"Many people wondered why the police could not pursue and make sure that person is brought to justice," Breed told the crowd. "Some of the changes to policies have limited our officers' ability to be as effective as we know they can. "

She continued: "People are always wondering why didn't the police do this? Why didn't the police do that? And it all goes back to many of these new, consistently changing, conflicting policies that have not helped with reforms. They have only made San Francisco less safe."

Police Chief Bill Scott said the changes would make an immediate impact on his department's ability to track down and catch criminals.

He pointed out that San Francisco currently lacks air support to track down suspects after a crime is committed.

"We don't have it. If we had the ability to have drones at the end of a foot pursuit — we get into foot pursuits all the time, — the technology in drones that would help us find the person we're looking for, that's a huge thing for us," Scott said.

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Even before Breed outlined her plans in detail at her news conference, Daniel Lurie – founder of Tipping Point and who is running for mayor himself – criticized her proposal. 

"After spending more than five years as mayor blaming everyone but herself for the city’s public safety crisis, the mayor is pointing fingers at a commission and police department that she already controls," Lurie said in a statement.

He said Breed could have appointed civilian police commissioners who would have pursued these expanded police-power policies five years ago when she was elected mayor.

Breed "alienated her own appointee and lost control of the Police Commission," according to Lurie's news release. "The body has since become her latest target of blame for the city’s woes, joining her passing the buck to the Board of Supervisors, the District Attorney, and judges, among others."