Civilian Brass

Thirteen years ago, civilians in S.F. won the authority to investigate and prosecute police misconduct before a disciplinary panel, thanks to a lesbian and gay community fed up with abusive SFPD crowd-control tactics and discriminatory law enforcement.

Unfortunately, the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) has never fulfilled its promise. Paltry budgets, bureaucratic vulnerability to police top brass, and a string of incompetent, corrupt, or cop-friendly directors have conspired to undermine the mission. (Incoherence hurt, too: Five permanent directors and a smattering of temporaries have come and gone.)

That legacy, thankfully, is about to end.
The agent of change has a name: Mary Dunlap. She is someone you should know if you have problems with your local beat cop, or believe your neighborhood is not getting proper attention. And, in the three months since her appointment last May, she has changed the very rhetoric of oversight.

"The gist is that for the life of the agency there has been an ongoing failure of leadership," Dunlap says plainly. "There hasn't been continuity. There hasn't been a vision."

In Dunlap's plans for a new OCC, she sees the need for a PR campaign to make the agency as familiar as the summer fog pouring over Twin Peaks. "My goal is to get the OCC known at the matchbook level."

She intends to wean the agency from its reactive habits and actively monitor cops, rather than await complaints. She wants cameras installed in key locations to catch "incarceration brutality" in action. She also preaches an analytical approach, proposing constant examination of the SFPD to determine if selective enforcement is occurring.

Dunlap arrives at a crucial point for civilian oversight in S.F. and statewide. Passage of local Proposition G last November allowed the agency to hire five additional investigators -- and meant it could make headway on a backlog of civilian complaints. Sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the measure imposes a staffing minimum at OCC, which requires the city to fund at least one line investigator for every 150 police officers.

Conversely, in Sacramento, police-officer-backed bills moving through the Legislature would among other things drastically cut the time frame within which civilian complaints must be investigated by the OCC and similar agencies statewide. (This is separate, by the way, from proposals to remove unsubstantiated complaints from files used by superiors when deciding on promotions.)

Now, in its first-high profile case before the city's five-member Police Commission, Dunlap's OCC is slated to go to trial next month. Facing prosecution by the OCC are officers who participated in a raid New Year's Day 1995 on an AIDS fund-raiser. The charges range from unnecessary force to making homophobic slurs and lying to investigators. The trial will be a test for the OCC and the commissioners, four of whom were appointed early this year by Mayor Brown.

Supervisor Ammiano says he is expecting big things from the newly invigorated OCC. "Mary is the cherry on the cake," he says.

Make that cherry bomb. While most OCC directors have had a tenuous grasp of the law -- some with no formal legal training -- Dunlap has twice argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. She was also one of the civil rights counsel who went to federal court on behalf of minority and female firefighters to help crack a discriminatory personnel regime at S.F.'s Fire Department. And she's taught law at 11 different institutions, including having founded a course in sexual-orientation law at Stanford Law School.

Brown had to pull Dunlap out of a semiretirement; Dunlap has spent most of her time the past two years writing and making ink prints at her Bayview art studio. "I'm ever so thankful to him for waking me up and getting me back to work," she says.

Some wondered how long that appointment might last several weeks back, when Dunlap, alone among city department heads, questioned Brown's proposed city charter amendment, Proposition C, which would bolster retirement benefits for municipal union workers, and give Brown new authority over hundreds of midlevel managers. Dunlap says she came out swinging against the measure at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting because it included a provision -- since changed -- to eliminate most Police Commission discipline trials in favor of private arbitration. "I didn't do the wise thing and go directly to the Mayor's Office first. I got caught in a pickle, and I hope not to become relish."

Ticket to Ride To a casual observer it may have seemed that the Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT) had suddenly become techno-savvy. In the waning weeks of the Jordan administration, the department put out bids for hand-held, ticket-writing computers instead of the old pen on paper. But since Willie Brown took office, the department has put the brakes on the deal and opened up a new bid process, this time asking for a more ambitious package: hand-held computers and a new mainframe computer system into which meter maids could dump information. The new system would make it easier for the department to counter dishonest ticket challenges.

But before applauding city bureaucrats, get this: The new bid process allows a fresh face to compete -- Lockheed Martin IMS, whose newly registered S.F. lobbyist is one William "Billy" Rutland, an old friend of Willie Brown's. Sources close to the mayor say Rutland is one of the most frequent names on the mayor's schedule. And, according to Jocelyn Kane, assistant to DPT Director John Newlin, the idea for the new bid process "came from the Mayor's Office." (Rutland did not return several weeks' worth of phone calls.)

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