A new proposal to require San Francisco police to adhere to local and state laws when they assist in federal counterterrorism investigations was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors today after an earlier version was vetoed by Mayor Ed Lee.
The legislation focuses on how the Police Department collaborates with the FBI and its local Joint Terrorism Task Force while collecting intelligence in potential terrorism cases.
A previous version of the ordinance was given narrow approval by the board in a 6-5 vote on April 3 but was vetoed by Mayor Ed Lee after police Chief Greg Suhr expressed opposition to it.
The earlier legislation addressed a memorandum of understanding between the FBI and San Francisco police, in which the federal agency authorizes a variety of intelligence gathering activities not allowed under state law, such as the surveillance of someone not suspected of any criminal activity.
Supervisor Jane Kim, who authored that ordinance, had said it would ensure that people’s civil rights would be protected by codifying into law that police officers must follow the local and state laws while working with the FBI.
Kim said the legislation was important to the community, particularly minority groups, and cited dozens of people who came out to a committee hearing on the issue in March to tell stories of racial profiling and discrimination.
Suhr said today that his opposition to the proposal was that it required certain language regarding the following of local and state laws to be included in future memorandums of understanding.
If it wasn’t included, the legislation “barred the Police Department from entering into the MOU … and would essentially be causing the Police Department to leave” the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The new legislation, also authored by Kim and passed in an 11-0 vote by the board this afternoon, still requires police to adhere to the local and state laws, but does not compel the department to include any such language in an agreement with the FBI.
However, it orders the police chief to submit any proposed MOU for discussion at an open Police Commission meeting and also to provide the commission with a yearly public report of the department’s work with the terrorism task force.
Suhr said the new agreement “implicitly acknowledges that we can’t make the FBI do anything” and also increases transparency of the department’s interactions with federal authorities.
“We’re happy to do all that, we’ve never ever tried to hide the ball,” he said. “We have no problem at all making sure everyone knows what we’re doing.”
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News