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YouTube may be only 2 years old, but public officials should have gotten the memo by now: From the moment they step out the front door in the morning, every single thing they say and do may be videotaped, stuck up on YouTube, and used against them. The most recent local example is a statement by David Campos, a police commissioner who's gearing up his campaign for the District 9 supervisor seat next year. But in a peculiar San Franciscan twist, what some would consider a political faux pas might be just the thing his young campaign needs.
Campos went to a meeting of the rabble-rousing group Axis of Love to hear the medical marijuana activists' complaints about the police, and about one police officer in particular: Sgt. Marty Halloran of the narcotics division. Over the last five years, Halloran has crossed paths with several people in the medical marijuana business who have wound up in trouble with the feds, and activists fervently believe he has it in for them. Medical marijuana is legal in California, and city supervisors instructed the police department to make marijuana offenses their lowest priority. Activists allege that, in spite of the local laws, Halloran passes information about pot clubs to the DEA for use in federal prosecutions.
At the March 27 meeting the activists ranted, and Campos responded. He was tactful offering to raise their concerns with the police chief and hold hearings but apparently not tactful enough. "He, this officer, is one of the people that I get the most complaints about," Campos said, referring to Halloran. He wondered aloud why an officer who received so many complaints was promoted twice. And then he stuck his foot in it.
In light of the activists' animosity to Halloran, Campos added, "He has no business being a police officer, because you can't have effective law enforcement if you don't have the trust of the community you're protecting." All of this was videotaped and posted on YouTube the next day.
Halloran is not only an 18-year veteran of the police department, he's also treasurer of the Police Officers Association (POA), the pugnacious and politically influential organization that often takes issue with the more liberal Police Commission. Which means that commissioners don't talk smack about one of the police union's leaders and get away with it.
At the Police Commission's meeting on April 4, POA President Gary Delagnes strode up to the podium during the public comment period. The president's blood must have been coming to a long, slow boil in the year and a half since he last picked a fight with a police commissioner in October 2005 he demanded that the mayor fire commissioner Joe Veronese (who still has a seat today).
Delagnes stuck up for his good friend Halloran, accused Campos of slander, and took aim. "Commissioner Campos said that Sgt. Marty Halloran had no business being a police officer," he said. "Well, for someone who has obviously dealt with this situation with a complete lack of integrity and has failed to act in a fair and impartial and objective manner, I believe the opposite is true, Mr. Campos. Perhaps you should not be sitting on this commission."
In a later conversation, the POA president declared that Campos' criticisms were politically motivated. "He's obviously going to be running on this police reform bullshit," he said. The hopping mad Delagnes said again that if Campos intends to keep up his critiques, he should resign his seat on the commission, where he has oversight of the police department. "When you're a police commissioner, you also represent police officers," he said, and Campos' off-the-cuff comments were sending a negative message. Then for good measure he called Campos' statements unethical, infantile, and naive.
As for Commissioner Campos, he says he has no intention and no reason to step down just when things are getting interesting. He intends to keep (respectfully) hammering the department on their policies regarding medical marijuana, he said. "My point was not to pick on any one individual, but there are larger policy issues that have been raised." He echoed one concern raised repeatedly by the activists, saying that he wants to look into whether police officers have been "cross-deputized" to serve both local and federal roles. It's a concern that the police department says is based on fantasy. "We cross-designate officers on specific cases," said narcotics Capt. Tim Hettrich, "but nobody has been cross-designated for marijuana cases with the DEA. We do not work with the DEA on marijuana cases."
But Campos clearly gained a devoted fan base from the brouhaha. About 30 activists gave Campos a round of applause when he walked into the latest commission meeting, and lined up to give statements of support during the public comment period. "My vote will go wherever you go," said one earnest man.
As the race for the District 9 supervisor seat is shaping up, it will be a contest to exhibit the truest and bluest liberal bona fides. The district's healthy mix of Latinos, working folks, and flat-dwelling hipsters makes it the most progressive district in the city, and its residents have little love for the police. If the police union is hoping to kill support for Campos, they may have miscalculated. "The tactics, the tone, and the attitude of the POA don't help matters," says local political consultant Jim Ross. "By coming out of the gate as opposed to the POA, it defines Commissioner Campos in a very specific way."
Maybe the time is right for this brilliant idea, which we're giving away for free. Anti-endorsement bumper stickers!
"David Campos not endorsed by the POA."