FAQ for Officers
DEPARTMENT OF POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY
Frequently Asked Questions: San Francisco Police Officers
Q. What is the Department of Police Accountability? Is this a new name for the Office of Citizen Complaints?
San Francisco Proposition G, adopted in November 2016, amended the Charter of the City and County of San Francisco to rename the San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) to the Department of Police Accountability (DPA).
DPA continues to investigate complaints of misconduct and neglect of duty by police officers, file disciplinary charges against officers, and make policy recommendations. The Police Commission is still the civilian oversight body for the San Francisco Police Department, and the Police Commission still oversees DPA. Unlike OCC, DPA has audit authority - at least every two years DPA must review the San Francisco Police Department’s use-of-force policies and its handling of claims of police misconduct.
Q. Why is this matter a DPA complaint?
San Francisco Charter requires DPA to promptly, fairly, and impartially investigate all complaints of police use of force, misconduct, or allegations that a member of the Police Department has not properly performed a duty. DPA must investigate these allegations without regard to their potential merit. Receiving a complaint and identifying allegations does not mean that DPA has made any judgment about the validity of the complaint. DPA also investigates officer-involved shootings resulting in injury, regardless of whether someone filed a complaint.
Q. Who may file a complaint with DPA?
Any member of the public can file a complaint about a San Francisco police officer. Complainants can file about something that happened to them, or about something that happened to somebody else. Complainants do not need to live in San Francisco, be a United States citizen, or speak English.
Q. How are the allegations in the complaint determined?
DPA investigators determine the allegations through an analysis of the complainant’s written and verbal statements. DPA investigators review each incident as a whole and may bring added allegations based on potential violations of law and procedure.
The allegation categories are:
• Unwarranted Action - An officer's actions were unnecessary or unrelated to a legitimate police purpose.
• Neglect of Duty - An officer failed to complete a required task.
• Use of Force - An officer used more force than was reasonably needed to perform a necessary police action.
• Conduct Unbecoming an Officer - An officer's rude or inappropriate behavior undermined public confidence or reflected poorly on the Police Department.
Q. What does a Notice and Order to Appear mean?
If you are served with a Notice and Order to Appear it means that you were identified as either a named member or witness in a DPA investigation. You must personally appear for a DPA interview at the date, time, and location shown on the notice.
DPA conducts fact-finding interviews, not hearings or depositions. During an interview, the DPA investigator will ask questions about your own actions and may question you about the actions of other officers and civilians connected to the incident.
DPA recommends that you bring field notes and any other materials relevant to the incident to your interview so that DPA may have a clear and complete picture of the evidence before making any determinations of fact.
Failure to appear or personally provide at least 24 hours’ notice of a need to reschedule constitutes a violation of General Order 2.04 and may result in disciplinary action.
Q. What does it mean to be a Named Member?
A named member is the subject of an investigation that may result in disciplinary action. Your status as a named member means that you have all the rights afforded you by the California Peace Officers Bill of Rights (POBR), including:
• The right to have a representative of your choice present during the interview, with some exceptions as to whom you may choose to represent you. (For example, your representative of choice cannot be an officer who may be questioned in connection with the incident under investigation.)
• The right to audio record the interview.
• The right to know the nature of the investigation.
Q. What does it mean to be a Witness?
If you interviewed as a witness, you are not the subject of the investigation. The purpose of your interview is to ensure a thorough DPA investigation of the complaint allegations. You must answer all questions truthfully and without evasion. Because you are not the subject of the investigation, the Government Code sections on named members do not apply.
Q. What does ID Pending mean?
ID Pending occurs when there is an allegation in which the definitive identification of the officer involved has not yet been made. DPA affords you full POBR rights during your interview because allegations could potentially be brought against you as the investigation progresses.
Q. How is this process fair to the officers?
DPA investigators are independent and neutral. Their goals are to find out what happened when someone complains and to look for ways to improve City services. While General Order 2.08 requires you to answer all questions posed during an administrative investigation, there is another reason to participate—the interview is an opportunity to give your perspective on the incident.
Q. What are my rights and responsibilities regarding DPA interviews and investigations?
POBR provides many protections to officers during this process. These protections include the right to have a representative present during misconduct investigation interviews, the right to an administrative appeal, and the right to review and respond to adverse comments in an officer’s personnel file. POBR also places restrictions on how interviews of police officers are conducted and timelines in which investigations must be completed.
You are required to answer the DPA investigator’s questions about anything connected with on-duty police activities including, but not limited to, the incident under investigation, police actions related to the incident, standard police practices and procedures, and your training and experience.
DPA investigators will treat you professionally and courteously during the interview. You also have the responsibility to act professionally and courteously and to direct your representative to act similarly. Please be aware that you or your representative’s failure to act in a professional and courteous manner during DPA interviews may result in disciplinary action.
Q. What are the rights and responsibilities of my representative?
If you are questioned as a named member, you alone must answer the DPA investigator’s questions truthfully and without evasion. Your representative may not provide answers on your behalf and may not interfere with the DPA investigator’s questioning.
You will have time at the conclusion of DPA questioning to clarify or expand on any issues remaining, to offer witnesses or other evidence relevant to the investigation, and to make statements for the record.
Q. How are findings reached in DPA complaints?
During the investigation, DPA gathers evidence pertinent to the allegations and
researches the laws and rules that apply to the allegations. DPA analyzes the facts as shown by the evidence, considers the pertinent laws and rules, and makes a preliminary determination for each allegation.
Findings of fact and interpretations of rules and law are made by the combined efforts of the DPA investigative staff, not simply by an individual investigator. Findings of improper conduct, also known as sustained allegations, are carefully reviewed for sufficiency by DPA Legal staff before they are approved by the DPA Executive Director.
Q. How will I learn the outcome of DPA’s investigation?
DPA mails letters to the complainant and all named members informing them of our preliminary findings for the allegations in the complaint.
If you were interviewed as a named member on an ID Pending allegation and do not receive a disposition letter, it means that you were not named in connection with this complaint and that the complaint will not be entered on your complaint history record.
Q. What if I do not agree with DPA’s findings?
DPA has discretionary authority to impanel an investigative hearing at the request of a complainant or an involved officer if it is determined that such a hearing will facilitate the fact-finding process. A request for an investigative hearing must be made in writing within ten (10) days of your receipt of the findings letter.
Your request for an investigative hearing should show one or more of the following:
• There is additional evidence, such as witness statements or other information that contradicts, supplements, or was not disclosed by the investigation
• There is reason to question the conclusion of the investigation
• An appearance in person by the parties would further the fact-finding process
• There has been an undue lapse of time since the occurrence of the incident
• A hearing would advance public confidence in the complaint process
• There are other factors that you believe make an investigative hearing necessary
Please contact the investigator specified in the findings letter to review the evidence in the case before requesting a hearing. DPA will notify you by mail whether your request has been granted or denied.
Q. What is a Member Response Form (MRF)?
MRFs are questionnaires sent to officers in lieu of an in-person interview. MRFs must be completed by the member and received by DPA within twenty-one (21) calendar-days of the notice. You must contact the appropriate DPA investigator prior to the due date if you cannot meet this deadline.
DPA only grants extensions if you submit as soon as possible, in writing, good cause to the assigned DPA investigator. Good cause includes, but is not limited to, illness, hospitalization, and unexpected family emergencies. The DPA Executive Director, or their designee, has sole authority to decide whether good cause exists.
Q. What is mediation?
Mediation is an alternative way of resolving complaints about police conduct. DPA has a mediation program that enables complainants to resolve their issues with the accused employee in a face to face dispute resolution process involving a trained mediator. The goal of the program is to bring together the involved parties to achieve mutual understanding.
Mediation is limited to eligible cases as determined by DPA and must be agreed to by both the complainant and the accused employee. Successfully mediated cases are not considered disciplinary proceedings in an employee’s record.
Q. How is discipline determined?
DPA makes discipline recommendations to the Chief of Police or Police Commission for all cases with improper conduct findings. Proposed discipline is consistent with principles of just cause and progressive discipline.
The Police Department’s Disciplinary Penalty and Referral Guidelines present examples of the factors the Chief of Police and the Department of Police Accountability consider in determining the charges for instances of misconduct filed with the Police Commission.