A proposal to require the San Francisco Police Department to adhere to local and state privacy laws when they assist in federal counterterrorism investigations was narrowly approved by the city’s Board of Supervisors today.
The ordinance, which was passed in a 6-5 vote, focuses on how the Police Department collaborates with the FBI and its local Joint Terrorism Task Force while collecting intelligence in potential terrorism cases around the region.
Under a 2007 memorandum of understanding with San Francisco police, the FBI authorizes a variety of intelligence gathering activities not allowed by state or city laws, such as the surveillance of someone without any suspicion of criminal activity.
The legislation passed by the board today, authored by Supervisor Jane Kim, would require that San Francisco police officers follow the local and state laws, and also would urge the department to amend or terminate the 2007 MOU.
Kim said she believes that officers already follow the local rules but said the policy “deserves to be codified into law.”
She said the idea for the ordinance came after talks with members of the local Arab and Southeast Asian communities, many of whom came to speak at an hours-long committee hearing on the issue two weeks ago and described episodes of racial profiling and discrimination.
Supervisor John Avalos, who also supported the legislation, said the ordinance was important because “public safety is really reliant on sound relations … between the community and police.”
Police spokesman Sgt. Mike Andraychak said after that committee hearing that the purpose of the ordinance has already been addressed in an internal department Bureau Order issued by police Chief Greg Suhr last May shortly after he was appointed as chief.
Supervisor Scott Wiener echoed that sentiment in his opposition to the proposal.
“This legislation is not about whether our Police Department should be complying,” Wiener said. “Of course they do.”
He said, “The question for me is if this needs to be legislated.”
Board president David Chiu said the legislation was about “the legacy we’re trying to leave” by stressing the importance of “transparency, due process and our civil liberties.”
In the end, the board passed the ordinance by a single vote. Wiener, Malia Cohen, Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell were the five supervisors to vote against it.
The ordinance will return in front of the board to be finalized next week and then sent to Mayor Ed Lee’s office to be signed.
Lee said today that he will decide on whether to sign the legislation after discussing it with Suhr, and said he would also like to get the input of the city’s Police Commission before making a decision.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News