December 11, 2005
Free the SFPD 20

By Debra Saunders

If anyone should be suspended because of the brouhaha surrounding videos shot by members of the San Francisco Police Department, it is Chief Heather Fong. Her job is to run a solid department that fights crime, which means she has to punish rogue officers who hurt law-abiding citizens, but also stand up for street cops who endure a lot of abuse as they strive to make this city a safe place.

Instead, she showed up with Mayor Gavin Newsom for a press conference Wednesday and supported the mayor's call for up to four whole investigations -- by the SFPD, a "blue ribbon commission," the city Human Rights Commission and the Commission on the Status of Women -- as they announced that 20 officers will be suspended for their amateur-hour videos.

Fong intoned, "This is a dark day -- an extremely dark day -- in the history of the San Francisco Police Department for me as a chief to have to stand here and share with you such egregious, shameful and despicable acts" by SFPD members.

You know, I'd save that rhetoric for when a police officer or a civilian is shot -- not for a prank video. I haven't watched every minute of the videos, so maybe I've missed something. But from the clips I've seen, if the videos maligned any one group, it is not gays, women or any racial group, as Newsom charged. It is cops. In one clip, two white cops read the paper, performed tai chi and visited a massage parlor, while ignoring the dispatchers trying to reach them. They did everything but eat doughnuts.

"My concerns would be that they were doing it while on duty and using department vehicles, which isn't a prudent thing to do," noted retired Chief Tony Ribera. After he watched clips, he opined, "I just don't see it as being all that horrible."

Now for some context: The Special City's homicide rate is the highest in a decade. The murder toll hit 92 Tuesday. That makes for a dark day in San Francisco.

People dying -- that's serious. And if you want to do something about it, you don't announce you are going to suspend 20 officers or even one officer -- Andrew Cohen, 39, without pay for producing the tapes. Not when you are 264 field officers short of a city mandate.

Morale for city cops is low. Many are angry that San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris didn't seek the death penalty against the man charged with the murder of Officer Isaac Espinoza last year. Then, in October, the city Police Commission angered many officers when, after clearing Officer Anthony Nelson of using unnecessary force with an antiwar protester in 2003, it fired him for filing an inaccurate report.

San Francisco shouldn't be acting like Salem during a witch-hunt -- and yet the Puritans are gathering. Indeed, SFPD just confirmed to me there is also a -- get this -- criminal investigation.

As former Mayor Willie Brown told me, "I think the chief and the mayor may be too far out front on their alleged outrage." Fong and Newsom at least could wait until the investigations are done before suspending officers without pay.

Instead, Newsom pronounced his verdict: "It is shameful. It is offensive. It is sexist. It is homophobic, it is racist, and we're going to make sure it ends.'' May the gods of political correctness forfend that S.F. police officers have fun.

Newsom embodies the reason network TV anchors roll their eyes when they talk about S.F. politics -- free speech only applies to lefties. When it comes to letting minors view pornography at the library, the city is adamantly free speech. But if cops want to let off a little steam, the progressives pull out their muzzles -- which makes San Francisco the most humorless city in America, run by the most humorless mayor.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

Debra Saunders

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