The cops and the pols have been meeting behind closed doors this summer as the Police Officers Association (POA) plays mayoral candidates off each other in an attempt to get the best contract. The winks and nods have been in secret, but now it's time to crash the party.
San Francisco's police union is in the throes of negotiating a new contract -- and its representatives are playing tag team with both incumbent Mayor Frank Jordan and leading challenger Willie Brown. Talks may expand to include challenger Roberta Achtenberg, but fourth-ranked candidate Angela Alioto is given only a dim chance to get her foot in the door as union leaders weigh her poll numbers more heavily than her history of support for their positions.
The fact that the current POA contract ended on July 1 during a mayoral campaign season is no accident. The union, along with its close relative, Firefighters Local 798, is a well-established political player able to go to the voters on its own behalf -- as well as for or against a candidate. The two unions proved just how important they are when they played a significant role in unseating incumbent Mayor Art Agnos four years ago.
Jordan, recognizing that politics supersede public policy, has been accompanied by his campaign manager, Clint Reilly, and Chief of Staff Jim Wunderman, in the contract talks, according to sources close to the negotiations.
Jordan made his move to politicize the negotiations earlier this year when he pulled the talks out of the impartial Department of Human Resources and assigned his own staff to handle the contract powwow. That earned Jordan a scolding from the city's Civil Grand Jury in a June 1 report when it officially took note that "The Mayor has removed from the Department of Human Resources negotiations with the two most politically powerful unions, fire and police." A tart-tongued mayoral response denied anything was up, and the issue slid from public view.
Jordan's leading opponent, Willie Brown, met with POA representatives last week after receiving a five-page letter outlining the POA's agenda for the upcoming contract.
"The POA is dealing with Jordan and talking with Willie Brown," says one source who asked not to be named. "In essence, it's about what it costs for an endorsement. It's that cold and that pragmatic."
Both Jordan and Brown told reporters last week that the city's cops are underpaid -- although neither let slip that he is talking with the cops about the issue.
The top contract issue is retirement benefits, which were slashed for police officers hired after 1975. The POA argues that the effect is to reduce officers' total compensation compared to what police receive in other California cities. It also strongly argues that the police could win better retirement while the city could simultaneously save money if the police were allowed to transfer out of the city retirement program and into the state retirement system -- as some other city workers, notably deputy sheriffs, have been able to do. While Jordan gave lip service to this notion earlier this year, he quietly killed a fact-finding effort that might have confirmed the POA's number-crunching.
Not all the POA's issues deal with pay, and some of the other items on the table have the potential to substantially alter civilian control over police discipline.
In a July 5 letter to Brown, POA President Al Trigueiro says his union wants police discipline to be taken out of the hands of the Police Commission and given to arbitrators -- a move traditionally opposed by the ACLU, lesbian and gay groups, and other advocates of comprehensive police discipline.
"We currently are strongly advocating that appeals of disciplinary actions be decided by neutral arbitrators rather than by the Police Commission," writes Trigueiro. "Appeals of disciplinary actions against police officers in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose are and have for some time been decided by arbitration."
The POA has long chafed under the Police Commission's authority to suspend or even fire bad cops, charging that politically appointed commissioners are subject to political pressures that sweep aside facts in favor of making popular decisions. The proposal is intended to put progressives on the horns of a dilemma, forced to choose between empowering labor and ensuring an open discipline process.
The effect of such a change also would spill over to the police chief, who would no longer be able to impose discipline or recommend strong penalties to the Police Commission. The Office of Citizens Complaints, already a weak investigative body, would retreat further from any chance of an activist role.
The POA also informed Brown that it wants to talk about the consent decree's requirements for promotions of women and minorities as part of the contract.
"The Consent Decree applicable to the POA should come to an end soon," writes Trigueiro. "The POA has an interest in seeing to it that potentially divisive issues, related to who gets promoted and how, are resolved with input from our entire membership. We have some ideas and proposals on this subject that we are eager to discuss with you."
In a third area, Trigueiro lays on the table a proposal to merge the airport police with the San Francisco Police Department -- which Trigueiro implicitly suggests would mean fulfilling the voter-mandated police staffing levels without the burden of adding more than 100 additional police officers (since the added airport police would count against the total). "The taxpayers ultimately benefit from such combinations when, as in this case, services could be produced more efficiently, without reducing wage and benefit levels."