S.F. Cop Union Supported Death Penalty Measure, Even Before There Was a Measure

California's various police officers don't necessarily love one another — L.A. cops look down at SFPD as a loose outfit, whereas SFPD scoffs at LAPD as a band of paramilitary, Hollywood-wannabe showboats — but they can agree on one thing: California should start killing people again, and pronto.

Nearly every law enforcement agency's lobbying arm in the state has signed on to support the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act, a voter initiative that promises to fast-track death sentences.

Currently, condemned prisoners are on Death Row for decades as their appeal process winds through the courts; if approved by voters in November, Reform and Savings would set a five-year limit for a death sentence's appeal process.

All executions have been on hold in California for more than 10 years, as legal squabbling over the cocktail used for lethal injections continues. But that hasn't stopped police lobbyists from pouring $1.2 million into the Reform and Savings effort, including $60,000 from the San Francisco Police Officers Association — which ponied up money before it endorsed the bill.

So early was the POA's support that it cut a check even before there was an official bill to support.

[jump] Police unions, sheriff's associations, and other lobbying arms for the California Highway Patrol and the state District Attorneys' Association plunked down the lion's share of Reform and Savings' cash, nearly all of which was spent on paid signature gatherers. 

The San Francisco Police Officers Association, the city's influential and outspoken police union, contributed $60,000 on Sept. 11 of last year, according to state campaign finance records.

That's less than the $100,000 given by the state DAs and by the political action committee from the Los Angeles Police Protective League — and less than the $75,000 the POA spent to try to keep Aaron Peskin off the Board of Supervisors in the fall — but still well more than any Bay Area law enforcement agency.

Perhaps oddly, the POA cut the check before the POA membership officially voted to support the bill, which it did this spring, according to the POA Journal, the organization's newspaper.

For that matter, the POA donated to the campaign even before there was a campaign — the language of the bill wasn't submitted to the state until October, according to Ballotpedia. 

Nobody in San Francisco has been sentenced to death since the early 1990s. Cops — and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein — wanted the death penalty for the killer of Officer Isaac Espinoza, a San Francisco cop shot and killed by a gang member in Hunters Point in 2004, but then-District Attorney Kamala Harris stayed true to a campaign promised and sought life in prison instead. 

Supporters of the measure like to point out that the death penalty is popular with voters, having been reinstated once via ballot box in the 1970s. (Several state Supreme Court justices were also removed from the bench via a recall vote after they commuted too many death sentences to life in prison.)

Supporters also like to point out that the possibility of innocent people sentenced to death is very slim. As Attorney General, Harris is actively trying to remove several people from Death Row because of mental incompetence. 

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman and consultant for the POA, told SF Weekly that the POA has always supported the death penalty. Even, as it turns out, before it casts a vote.

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