See our March 2024 SF Election Guide for a nonpartisan analysis of measures and contests on the ballot in San Francisco for the election occurring March 5, 2024. Voters will consider the following proposition in that election.
Proposition E is a package of policy changes that would allow the San Francisco Police Department to engage in more high-speed chases, permit drone use in pursuits and grant the department the ability to install new security cameras in public spaces and test new surveillance technology on the public with less oversight from independent bodies. It would also allow police to file fewer reports documenting use of force against members of the public, permitting body-camera footage to be used in place of other documentation.
The city’s current car chase policy was developed in 2013 and limits pursuits to situations in which a person is suspected of committing a violent felony, or police reasonably believe the person must be immediately apprehended because they are a public safety risk. Police officials said in early January that the current policy is consistent with national best practices and state law, Mission Local reported.
Proposition E would lower the existing threshold, allowing police to pursue someone if they have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed or may be about to commit a felony or violent misdemeanor. It would also allow the use of drones that could include facial recognition technology during or in place of vehicle chases and during active investigations.
This measure would also transfer control of approving new public cameras from the Police Commission to the chief of police. If passed, police could install a camera in public without approval from the commission as long as they held a community meeting to discuss the camera and the chief believed it was “likely to improve public safety.” The measure specifies that cameras could include facial recognition technology.
The proposition would also allow the department to acquire and use new surveillance technology on the public without approval from the Board of Supervisors as long as the department submitted a set of policies governing its use within one year of acquiring or using the technology. This stands in contrast to the current policy, passed in 2019 to protect privacy, that requires approval from the Board of Supervisors in order to use new surveillance technology.
Proposition E would also change the threshold for filing use-of-force reports, allowing officers to skip paperwork and instead use body camera footage as evidence in certain instances. Current use-of-force reporting standards were amended in late 2022 to raise the threshold for filing paperwork. If the measure passes, officers would have to fill out a form only if a person was physically injured, if the officer believed the use of force was likely to cause injury, or if the officer used a firearm or pointed it at a person.
Finally, Proposition E would institute requirements for additional public meetings before the Police Commission could change department policies.
A “yes” vote means that you support changes to the Police Department’s car chase policy and use-of-force reporting requirements, as well as granting the police additional powers to use new surveillance technology. A “no” vote means you oppose these changes.
Proponents of the measure, including Mayor London Breed, say this change is meant to reduce the amount of time officers spend on administrative tasks, with a mandate that officers don’t spend more than 20% of their time on such activities. Officers do not currently track their time, as a matter of department policy, and the measure does not explain how they would do so.
“We need to give our officers the tools necessary to keep our communities safe and not leave them stuck behind a desk when they can be out on the street helping people,” Breed wrote in a statement. The proposition is also supported by Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Joel Engardio, Matt Dorsey and Rafael Mandelman, who wrote in a paid support statement that it would equip officers with 21st century technology to combat crime.
However, the ordinance is opposed by many groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Bar Association of San Francisco, which say that it jeopardizes numerous directives from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding use-of-force policies. The DOJ recommended in a 2016 report that the city increase and improve its use-of-force documentation.
“This ordinance, should it remain on the ballot and succeed, will set all progress back, and subject this City to countless legal actions given all the ways in which it contravenes laws and regulations,” wrote Vidhya Prabhakaran, president of the Board of the Bar Association of San Francisco, in a letter opposing the measure.
Critics say also that it strips away important safeguards for police accountability and oversight, especially for people of color.
Police Department records showed that in the last quarter of 2022, police used force on Black people 25 times as often as on white people, a disparity that has continued along similar trend lines this year, and one that the department was unable to explain in a recent Police Commission hearing.
As of publication, supporters of Proposition E have raised more money for the measure than have campaigns for or against any other city proposition, nearly $1.26 million, Ethics Commission records show. Proponent Chris Larson, founder of Ripple Labs, a cryptocurrency firm, donated $250,000 to support the campaign. Mayoral candidate and Levi Strauss heir Daniel Lurie has raised $635,000 to support of Proposition E, including $250,000 from his brother. The police union also gave $50,000 in support of the measure, according to The San Francisco Standard, though this donation does not appear in Ethics Commission records. The ACLU contributed $200,000 to fight the measure.