SF police union opposed to new draft policy that would end forcing suspects to sit on ground

San Francisco's Police Chief Bill Scott says he is drafting a new policy that would have officers avoid ordering suspects to sit on the ground. 

KTVU obtained a copy of a draft memo issued by Scott. It says quote "seating any handcuffed or un-handcuffed detained subject on the ground...or the sidewalk during an encounter should be avoided." The memo also states officers would be required to "document, in an incident report, anytime it is necessary to seat an individual on the ground." 

"This is something that I believe will make us a better police department in terms of the way we engage with the public. Again, it's about treating people with respect as we provide safety," Scott said

The police chief says that the idea is just in a draft stage and has not been implemented. 

The San Francisco Police Officers Association says the proposal could jeopardize officers' safety. The union heard from members about the proposal and had the union's attorney send a cease and desist letter to Scott. 

"We had been advised by some members who were received training from the academy that this was potentially on its way and this was something that was going to be implemented but it had not yet been implemented," said Matt Lobre, the union's secretary.

Some worry that suspects might run away or attack people more easily if they aren't compelled to sit. 

The union also says officers might have difficulty complying with a "no sitting" policy, especially for those on foot beats, bicycles, or with vehicles parked far away.

"You could be at a scene where your patrol car is parked half a block away and if you are dealing with a scene that is present in front of you, you may not have time to walk a person back to the patrol car," said Lobre.

Scott said he does not believe a policy change would impact officers' safety. He said officers would still be able to seat suspects and the idea is to increase accountability for police actions. 

"Nowhere in that draft does it say you shall not. What it does say is be able to explain it and document your actions," said Scott, "The circumstances have to dictate what the officer's actions are and if you have to do that, do it. But do it with respect and be able to explain it."

Richard Corriea, director of the University of San FranciscoInstitute of Criminal Justice Leadership and a former San Francisco police commander, said at times, seating a suspect might calm a situation instead of escalating it. 

"I think anything you can do to avoid an escalation in force to accomplish a police activity is a good thing," said Corriea. 

He suggested that any policy change should include input from the union, professional experts in the use of force, and police academy training officers. Corriea says training could help officers exercise better judgment.

"Train to what you want to have happen out in the field," he said. "And It may well be that to train the officers in how they exercise discretion in having someone sit down  instead of versus a bright line rule." 

The chief said he has sent a letter to the POA and the union confirmed they are working with the chief to set up a meeting in the coming weeks.