SF mayor pushes for ballot measure to broaden police powers

San Francisco's mayor is pushing for Proposition E, broadening police powers. But, civil liberty advocates are warning these new powers will erode privacy and reduce oversight.

Proposition E comes out of the mayor's office and so far has gotten a lot of attention for allowing police to use surveillance technology, but the proposition also would allow police discretion on when to chase suspects. 

The proposition would allow police to begin using new technology like drones and cameras, reduce the paperwork for officers to get them back on the streets faster, and would change the city's pursuit policy to allow officers to pursue suspects in non-violent felonies and violent misdemeanors.

Michael Hsu said that would have helped him after burglars recently hit his shop, Footprint. He said police showed up just as those burglars were leaving, but the officers couldn't chase those suspects down. "But, after watching the video they let them go,'" Hsu said. "That's when I called the police station and said, 'what happened?' and they told me they couldn't give chase due to some policy."

The head of the San Francisco's Police Officers Association, Tracy McCray said her organization also backs Prop E. She said current policy ties up her officers and in many cases prevents them from apprehending repeat offenders. "We don't need policies that are filled with, basically ideological bulls*t," McCray said. "We don't need that. What we need is common sense."

Mayor London Breed put the proposition on the ballot saying it would help police serve the city better. "Our police officers are not stupid," said Mayor Breed. "They know the difference, and they know what they probably would need to do in order to make the right decision to ensure that the public is safe in any pursuit."

But privacy and civil liberty groups are warning about Prop E, calling it a year-long experiment that would roll back protections voters explicitly put in place just four years ago. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has called the proposition an attempt to exploit voters’ frustrations with crime to distract from an unpopular mayor’s record.

"Proposition E would let the San Francisco Police Department hide officer violence by reducing the information police collect when reporting use-of-force incidents," their statement read. They said SFPD data from 2022 shows the department is more likely to use force on Black people than white people. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called Prop E a looming threat to privacy and civil liberties, saying the proposition would eliminate oversight and give police free rein to use what it calls unproven and dangerous technology. "And this is an absolute recipe for civil rights violations and an increase in discriminatory policing," Matthew Guariglia from the Electronic Frontier Foundation said. 

Voters will have their say on Proposition E on the March 5 ballot.


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