Witnesses at an SF Board of Supervisors hearing on an ordinance meant to limit the relationship between the SFPD and the FBI. (Aarti Shahani/KQED)

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will soon vote on an ordinance that restricts the police department’s relationship with the FBI. On Thursday, the Public Safety Committee approved the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights ordinance. Introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim, it urges – but does not require – the police to amend or terminate their agreement with the FBI. The SFPD, however, says the ordinance is unnecessary, as officers who work with the joint task force “remain in the chain of command and under the supervision of SFPD and must comply with Department policies at all times.” (Read the full statement below.)

The legislation comes after supervisors learned a few months ago that, under an agreement with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, San Francisco police officers have interviewed people about their religious practices and political speech — without reasonable suspicion of any crime.

At the hearing yesterday, John Crew of the ACLU charged that the partnership between the SFPD and FBI is a departure from standard criminal practice, and unacceptable. He said, “nobody in San Francisco or California decided to throw away our standards and take our local police officers and turn them into national security agents.”

Nasrina Bargzie, a lawyer with the Asian Law Caucus, said that in 2001, after she told friends she opposed the war in her native Afghanistan, officers contacted her and arranged an interview at a Concord Starbucks. Holding back tears, she testified, “this ordinance matters because based on the standards that applied to the FBI today, anybody could be subjected to the treatment I was.”

The ordinance is slated for a reading and Board vote on March 13th.

Here is the statement from San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr’s office:

Chief Suhr, immediately and within 30 days of taking office, took steps to ensure that all San Francisco police officers adhere to local standards. The Chief issued a binding Bureau Order (#2011-07) setting forth the requirements that officers comply with local standards and adhere to General Order 8.10.

SFPD Personnel are bound by the provisions of that order which states, “….SFPD officers who work with the JTTF remain in the chain of command and under the supervision of SFPD and must comply with Department policies at all times.”

Furthermore, “In situations where the statutory law of California is more restrictive of law enforcement than comparable federal law, the investigative methods employed by SFPD officers working on JTTF investigations shall conform to the requirements of such California statutes.”

The Department has been and continues to work with those interested organizations and parties to address their concerns. The San Francisco Police Department will continue its policy of openness and transparency.


Aarti Shahani

Aarti Shahani is a reporter at KQED, focusing on business and technology. She came to San Francisco as a Kroc Fellow with NPR. She was part of the ProPublica team awarded an Investigative Reporters & Editors Award for Post Mortem – a series examining the unregulated coroner and medical examiner industry. Shahani got her Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, supported by the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship and a Public Service Fellowship. She studied globalization as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. She was raised in Flushing, Queens – in the nation’s most diverse zip code.

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