Are San Francisco police unfairly snooping on local citizens in cooperation with federal authorities investigating terrorism? Some community members, civil rights advocates and local legislators worry that may be the case.
Supervisor Jane Kim introduced a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would prohibit San Francisco police working as part of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force from collecting information about local residents unless there is a "reasonable suspicion of criminal activity."
Kim said the law was needed to protect citizens’ civil rights and prevent racial profiling.
"Our South Asian, Arab and Muslim neighbors want to know that our police officers, who work to protect our communities, won’t engage in surveillance or infiltration without reasonable suspicion or cause," Kim said.
Police Chief Greg Suhr said the new law was unnecessary and that those concerns had already been addressed by department orders he implemented last year.
The issue revolves around a cooperative agreement between San Francisco police and the FBI, updated in 2007, to assist in anti-terrorism investigations. Similar agreements, many implemented after the 9/11 attacks, exist in cities throughout the country.
Civil rights groups, including the ACLU, say the agreement allows San Francisco police to follow a lower federal standard to investigate someone, and without oversight by the civilian Police Commission.
"We support counterterrorism efforts here in San Francisco," said Kim. "We know how important this is to stability in this country. But we really just want to respect local privacy laws" in San Francisco and California, she said.
John Crew of the ACLU of Northern California said local police should adhere to those laws, as well as San Francisco’s "long-standing policies" on intelligence gathering, racial profiling and not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement.
"Those standards should apply whether or not our officers are working in tandem with the FBI," Crew said. "They’re still our officers, paid by our tax dollars. Our standards, our local values, our local laws should apply."
In a prepared statement, Suhr cited a bureau order from May 2011 that requires San Francisco police, in JTTF investigations, to conform to California law rather than federal law, if the state law is more restrictive.
"The San Francisco Police Department will continue its policy of openness and transparency," Suhr added.
Supervisor John Avalos co-sponsored the ordinance.