Photo courtesy of CBS
For the first four months of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, crimes in San Francisco pretty much increased across the board. This also represents the first four months of District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s term and his unique philosophy. Despite a period that included 45 days of shelter-in-place, homicides were up 25%, burglaries +12%, robberies +3%, arsons +52%, and stolen vehicles +15%. With tourists blocked from visiting San Francisco and retail stores closed, larcenies dropped 16%.
Note that larceny involves property only. Robbery includes force or fear imposed on a victim, while burglary involves breaking into another's property. Up until a couple years ago, If someone went into a store and stole something, it was considered larceny and burglary. After Prop 47, they dropped the burglary component.
So — the first person breaking down a door is a burglar. But, everyone else going in is just stealing (larceny).
On May 8, 2020, District Attorney Chesa Boudin made a public statement: “We decreased the jail population by 40%. Meanwhile, crime rates plummeted by more than 40%.”
Recognizing that there was a disparity between Boudin’s assessment and SFPD Compstat numbers, I made a public records request into Mr. Boudin’s office. Rachel, the former public defender handling Mr. Boudin’s public records requests, stonewalled with the claim that the DA’s office did not have to respond “as the informational items are not public records, and appeared to be a media request to gain further information about something DA Boudin said publically.” Yeah??
There are several problems with Boudin’s boasted success with reducing the jail population”
After I provided the statute that commands the DA to respond to the public records request, Rachel came up with a second excuse: “we are not required to create new records and sources you appear to be seeking come from an outside agency.”
After I finally explained to Rachel, an attorney, that anything Chesa Boudin says or writes publically is subject to a public records request, Rachel finally revealed that Boudin had gone to SFPD’s Crime Dashboard and picked a 35-day period immediately following the March 16, 2020 stay-in-place.
There are several problems with Boudin’s boasted success with reducing the jail population:
1. He gave equal weight to all crimes. In other words Boudin believes a decline in two larcenies fairly offsets two murders.
2. With no one on the streets, total crimes exclusive of larcenies barely declined for Boudin’s cherry-picked 35-day period: 1,036 this year versus 1,082 last year.
3. When he cherry-picked the period that made his policies appear the least disruptive, he failed to consider how his policies would affect the city once the stay-in-place was lifted.
We are all aware of the public protests that started May 28, 2020 over the tragic murder and complete disregard for George Floyd’s life. Concurrent with the protests, larcenies and looting escalated. (This story is about fudging of crime statistics, not who is responsible for the looting.) The explosion of larcenies have the potential to damage Chesa Boudin’s narrative that allowing hundreds of people out of jail does not affect the crime rate, especially larcenies stats which carry Boudin’s statistical thesis. The recent larceny wave also affects how citizens will view Mayor Breed and Chief Will Scott’s performance.
To see how Chief Scott and the two elected public officials will account for the surge in larcenies and looting, I went to Mr. Boudin’s source, the SFPD Crime Dashboard. Last year, for the four-day period of May 28th through May 31st, larcenies totaled 458. Through the same four-days of this year, SFPD is reporting only 64 larcenies- a 96% decline despite all the looting we have witnessed.
Burglaries for the same period increased 100% from 64 to 126.
So from SFPD’s larceny and burglary statistics above, we can conclude that SFPD will claim that the hundreds of people that stormed businesses with snatch-and-grabs of millions of dollars worth of merchandise can be smoothed down into 126 burglaries. And, after all this passes, Chief Scott, Mayor Breed, and DA Boudin will use this burglary blip to pat themselves on the back and claim how successful their policies were.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Lou Barberini is a former police officer with the San Francisco Police Department. He has written for the Westside Observer for four years.
We’ve all seen videos of people in the Tenderloin strewn out on the sidewalks, under the influence of drugs or seemingly “unable to take care of themselves.” Frequently citizens ask, “What is SFPD doing about this?” If SFPD observes someone consuming narcotics, the most they can do is interrupt the subject with a useless traffic ticket, because District Attorney Chesa Boudin has repeatedly articulated he will not prosecute these crimes.
...Tommy, a resident who was refusing to social distance, fighting with other tenants, opening the door to allow non-tenants into the building, and acting “erratic.” Upon arrival, the two officers immediately observed Tommy was bleeding from his mouth.”
Then there are those who appear completely disconnected to this world: Zombies talking to themselves who, if not a threat to passersby, remain a threat to themselves.
At 7:13 p.m. on the evening of April 20, 2020, two Tenderloin Station officers were dispatched to 64 Turk Street ¾ a residential hotel run by the nonprofit Conard House. The website for the Conard House sermonizes it provides “supportive housing, counseling, community involvement and coordination of essential services, including health navigation… More than 33% of (Conard’s residents) reflect two stark underlying realities: A pervasive disengagement in self-care and a tragic failure to access health care that is available.”
The call from the Conrad’s front desk was regarding Tommy, a resident who was refusing to social distance, fighting with other tenants, opening the door to allow non-tenants into the building, and acting “erratic.” Upon arrival, the two officers immediately observed Tommy was bleeding from his mouth.
One Tenderloin officer asked Tommy if he needed medical assistance, but Tommy walked away saying, “You are going to have to kill me” — not your typical San Franciscan’s response. When the officer attempted to have Tommy remain for an investigation, Tommy punched one officer and kicked the other officer. Additional Tenderloin officers were required to assist in subduing Tommy.
With Tommy in handcuffs, the two SFPD officers had two options: 1) They could book Tommy for assaulting a police officer, or 2) They could recognize that Tommy was not of sound mind and that he needed a mental health evaluation. Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code provides law enforcement officers with the ability to restrict a citizen’s freedom for up to 72 hours, if the law enforcement officers can articulate that a subject is a danger to himself or others. This is frequently referred to as a “5150.” The two officers selected the second option and requested an ambulance take Tommy for a 72-hour mental health evaluation. The ambulance took Tommy to St. Francis Hospital on Hyde Street.
With all of the St. Francis personnel’s training, somehow Tommy was released less than ten hours after he arrived. We know this because at approximately 5:26 a.m. the next morning, 60-year-old Jonathan was walking his dog at approximately 624 Post Street ¾ directly one block north of the theater district, two blocks west of tourist-centric Union Square, and 50 feet from the Bohemian Club ¾ when Tommy stepped out from a building alcove, said “You fu*ker,” and smashed a two-by-four across Jonathan’s face, causing several facial fractures. Meanwhile, Tommy fled further into the homeless nonprofit ecosystem.
An hour later, the manager of the Pierre Hotel at 540 Jones Street called 9–1–1 to say that Tommy was threatening people at the hotel, was swinging a “bloody two-by-four,” and was reaching for a knife or a similar-looking object.
As the Tenderloin Housing Clinic’s website advertises, the Pierre Hotel is part of its portfolio with the purpose “that a homeless person’s first and primary need is for a roof over their head.” The Tenderloin Housing Clinic is a nonprofit organization run by career homeless activist Randy Shaw, who lives in Berkeley.
SFPD was quick to link this connection to the same Tommy, still carrying on his rampage from Post Street. When SFPD arrived at the Pierre Hotel, Tommy had hijacked and isolated himself in the lobby’s front desk, which is protected behind counter-to-ceiling transparent plastic partitions. On video released by SFPD, two officers spent more than eight minutes trying to talk Tommy out, before he eventually started swinging the two-by-four around, stained with Jonathan’s blood, and destroying the Pierre Hotel’s front office.
When Tommy finally emerged from the office, he charged directly at a SFPD officer and apparently tried to strip a gun out of the officer’s hand as the officer tactically retreated. One SFPD officer fired his gun at Tommy without striking him.
Next, Tommy fled to another nonprofit, Glide Memorial Church. Per Glide’s website, they are the “radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization…with a mission to change public policy around poverty, discrimination, and civil human rights.”
For the next 15-hours, Tommy barricaded himself inside Glide, tying up platoons of SFPD officers, the tactical squad, and a negotiator, before he was arrested without being injured.
Tommy’s 24-hour-plus tour of Tenderloin nonprofit buildings raises several issues:
1. How are residents in the Tenderloin expected to live in safety if medical personnel only hold persons who are a danger to themselves or others for a fraction of 72-hour 5150 holds?
2. Should SFPD spend time directing desperate souls to hospitals for a 45-minute visit, or should SFPD triage citizens who are victims of crime?
3. How will District Attorney Boudin be able to claim that Tommy is incapable of recognizing what he was doing, if professional St. Francis medical personnel determined Tommy was lucid and taking care of himself?
How can the Board of Supervisors continue to campaign for spreading the homeless throughout the city via “navigation centers,” if, as in Tommy’s case, three nonprofits were unable to help him?
Sadly, I fear it’s only going to get worse.
Lou Barberini is a CPA and worked for the San Francisco Police Department for 21-years, which followed his father’s 30-year SFPD career.
San Francisco politicians wasted no time in using the chaos of the coronavirus to push through their agendas: street closures to nonexistent traffic, spreading the homeless to hotels in districts they don’t frequent, and the release of “non violent” prisoners from jail.
On March 17, 2020, District Attorney Chesa Boudin, along with other progressive district attorneys, signed a declaration that “non violent” inmates be immediately released because of concerns about the coronavirus spreading throughout county jails. On April 6, Boudin switched the blame for releasing prisoners with a tweet, “Healthcare professionals demanded we drastically reduce the jail population, so we listened.” Over a two-month stretch, Boudin pared the SF jail population 38% and further boasted in an April 6th tweet, “Meanwhile, crime rates continue to decrease in SF.” Two weeks later, Boudin tweeted again that the crime rate in SF was still falling.
Boudin’s Math Deficiency
Despite his education, Boudin’s math was either conveniently inaccurate, or perhaps he was just misleading the public to fuel his lineally inherited agenda.
Total violent crimes through the first three months of Boudin’s term increased 6.4% fueled by a 17.8% increase in robberies. Robberies in just February 2020 increased 50% when compared to the previous February. One SFPD station reported that year-to-date robberies with weapons were up 100% over last year. All since Chesa Boudin arrived, San Franciscans were 3,400% more likely to be robbed than to perish from the coronavirus.
Boudin was also incorrect on property crimes. Sure, with tourism down auto break-in’s declined 9%, but thieves made up for it with a 10.7% increase in stolen vehicles.
Extrapolating an approximate 40% decline in bridge, BART, and MUNI traffic, with streets anecdotally vacant of people, one has to question how robbers are even finding so much prey. If robbers are this successful with fewer people on the streets, that means the odds of getting robbed are more than double in the pre-Boudin era. Have the criminals just been taking advantage of an accommodating District Attorney to graduate up the scale of crime?
Boudin’s Definition of “Non-violent” Differs From The Dictionary
On a sunny day in San Francisco, two SFPD officers cruised on their bike beats at Market and Jones Streets. (Note: there would be no story here if these officers had been walking ineffective foot beats). As they approached TB (Tenderloin Businessman), wearing a black hoody on a 73-degree day, TB made eye contact with the officers and then from the sidewalk picked up a tool of the trade (an electronic scale) and inventory (marijuana).
Sure, with tourism down auto break-in’s declined 9%, but thieves made up for it with a 10.7% increase in stolen vehicles.”
With suspicion that TB was operating a business, the bike officers attempted to detain TB, but he became so irate and agitated that the officers had to call for backup. With backup present, TB gave the bike officers a fake name and lied that he was not on probation. Unaware who TB really was, the officers started to release TB with a mere citation addressed to the fake name. However, TB screwed up and signed the SFPD property receipt with his real name: “TB.”
The bike officers escalated their investigation and took TB back to Tenderloin Station, which caused TB to vehemently plead to handoff his car keys to his girlfriend.
At Tenderloin Station, the bike officers confirmed that because of prior arrests at Jones and Market Streets, the courts had already filed a worthless “stay away order” supposedly preventing TB from hanging around Jones and Market Streets.
While TB was in a holding cell, a different Tenderloin officer recognized that TB met the description of the person — captured on video — who, a couple hours earlier, had “discharged a pistol towards two unknown victims.” The bike cops connected TB’s adamant earlier appeal to handoff his car keys, to the need to take a tour of the Tenderloin clicking TB’s keys until they triggered his vehicle’s indicator lights to come on. A SFPD Investigator then convinced a judge that probable cause existed; that TB was a shooter, that he controlled the vehicle in question, and the gun used in the violent crime was likely in the car the beat officers found. The judge authorized a search warrant. With the approved search warrant in hand, the officers found a Smith & Wesson 380 under the vehicle’s center counsel panel.
The officers booked TB only for assault with a deadly weapon — a conservative move even though attempted murder would have been appropriate.
Only 30-days later, Boudin’s office released TB with a GPS ankle bracelet “for good cause pursuant to National Emergency due to Covid-19 pandemic.” If TB does not meet the definition of “violent criminal” in Boudin’s lineally inherited reality, then who does?
Boudin’s Alternative Reality
On March 26th, Boudin tweeted, “Like the majority of Americans, I have an immediate family member locked up behind bars.” There are three problems with Boudin’s perspective:
First (and again) Boudin’s math skills are atrocious. Like his falsehood of declining San Francisco crimes, a majority of Americans, 165 million, are not locked up. Nor should a 35.7% share of a DA’s race be considered a majority either.
Second, Boudin tweet demonstrates no remorse and is disrespectful to the lives stolen by his parents’ planned robbery and resultant murders.
Third, Boudin’s tweet reeks of a self-absorbed selfishness and a misguided grievance that his real father was not freed to raise him.
On October 20, 1981, Chesa Boudin’s mother, secured him with a babysitter while she went on to participate in a scheduled Brink’s robbery and consequential murders. Because the heinous crimes brought prison sentences to both his parents, alternative Weather Underground participants had to raise and mold Boudin. Granted, that was tough card to be dealt to an innocent 14-month Chesa.
However, lets put Boudin’s feeling of injustice into context: from that same October day forward, Edward O’Grady (6), Patricia O’Grady (2), Kimberly O’Grady (6 months), and Gregory Brown never saw, never spoke to, nor were ever held again by their fathers — thanks to the “violent crimes” and political views of Chesa Boudin’s parents.
Yet now, Chesa Boudin pouts about his father, and disrespects the families of his parents’ victims, while perpetuating the impossibility that 165,000,000 Americans are currently incarcerated. Some politicians should not tweet!
Lou Barberini is a CPA and worked for the San Francisco Police Department for 21-years, which followed his father’s 30-year SFPD career.More articles by Lou Barberini
Department of Emergency Management’s Failure to Track 9-1-1 Suspect Info
The Apple sales manager scolded his Apple rep on the floor:
You sold too many Apple Watches!
I’m only selling what the customers want. As the sales manager, I was sure you were the one monitoring the sales volume of iWatches.
I have no idea what the customers are demanding. It’s your fault for selling too many iWatches!
This unlikely scenario would never happen in the real world, but does it happen in the City and County of San Francisco?
In accordance with reporting crimes to the FBI, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) segregates crimes into violent crimes vs. property crimes. Violent crimes include homicides, rapes, robberies, human trafficking, and aggravated assaults.
Another misconception ... is that SFPD police officers drive up, see a robbery in progress, and arrest the suspect. Nothing could be rarer.”
Robberies involve the taking of property through force or fear. The public often misconstrues someone breaking into their home while they are away as a “robbery.” Per the California Penal Code, this is defined as a “burglary.”
Robberies are unique amongst other violent crime statistics because, almost by definition, robbery suspects don’t want the victim to know who they are. What robber is stupid enough to rob someone who could later identify them? This also makes robbery reports more objective when compared to the frequent he-said–she-said disagreements between acquaintances that sometimes escalate into an aggravated assault, or worse. The shock and violence committed by an unknown, complete stranger is one of the most traumatizing crimes, leaving the victim with a lifetime of emotional scaring.
Another misconception about the approximate 10 robberies that occur daily in San Francisco is that SFPD police officers drive up, see a robbery in progress, and arrest the suspect. Nothing could be rarer.
I polled SFPD officers having an aggregate of 500+ years of experience about the total number of robberies where SFPD makes an arrest that does not require a victim’s description of the suspect. The answer was less than 10 per year. That means that in 99.8% of the robberies that occur annually in San Francisco, officers have to rely entirely on a) The victim’s description of the suspect when officers are either flagged down or respond to a 9-1-1 customer call, and b) 3,000+ unrelated victims’ promising to identify the suspects in court under penalty of perjury.
Unfortunately, and for similar reasons, the socioeconomic demographics of robbery arrests mirror the composition of professional athletic teams, rather than mirroring the general socioeconomic demographics of San Francisco. Anti-police groups despise this lack of diversity and scapegoat SFPD officers to justify anti-police biased perspectives of law enforcement.
Because the impetus driving SFPD robbery arrests comes from descriptions provided by victims, not from proactive police actions, it is informative to ascertain: a) The aggregate robbery suspect descriptions called into 9-1-1, and b) Whether (or not) SFPD arrested robbery suspects in proportion to the ethnic descriptions obtained from victims’ 9-1-1 calls.
On March 2, 2020 I placed a public records request to the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) — the City department that dispatches 9-1-1 calls to police officers — to obtain aggregate data of the ethnic descriptions of the 3,000+ annual SF robbery suspects. Like the Apple sales manager in my example, DEM responded saying it could not produce aggregate suspect descriptions, and that I should contact SFPD. Per a March 6, 2020 public records request to SFPD, it too stated it doesn’t maintain a database of robbery suspect descriptions.
It defies reason that SFPD officers have been disparaged by various media outlets for failing to make arrests ¾ for all crimes ¾ in proportion to the City’s ethnic populations, since both the DEM and the SFPD administrations have failed to track suspect descriptions reported by 9-1-1 customers. Likewise, it was total ineptness by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) during its 2016 survey of SFPD that the DOJ didn’t even trip over the conspicuous fact that there is no database of 9-1-1 callers’ suspect descriptions and, therefore, no evidence could possibly exist that SFPD arrested suspects disproportionately to the ethnic demographic descriptions obtained during 9-1-1 customers’ calls.
Why are 9-1-1 callers’ suspect descriptions not collected and tabulated? There are a myriad of complex social, cultural, educational, and economic issues that drive crime rates. Despite this, it has become simpler for SFPD’s upper management — and Chief Scott in his quest to appease the DOJ — to let officers on the streets take the fall for racism than to initiate a discussion with the already statistically-challenged groups about potential solutions to social problems contributing to lopsided crime rates.
If the Apple sales manager doesn’t want his salesperson to sell too many iWatches, he should screen out the customers wanting to buy them before they enter the store. Similarly, if the media, the District Attorney, and the upper levels of SFPD want diversity of arrests, then DEM should be commanded to restrict taking additional customer calls to 9-1-1 once each ethnic group’s quota has been filled. But watch out San Francisco. Under this plan, the statistically-challenged will shift their scapegoating to the customers calling 9-1-1 ¾ Any excuse to avoid a discussion of social solutions.
Lou Barberini is a CPA and worked for the San Francisco Police Department for 21-years, which followed his father’s 30-year SFPD career. He can be reached at email@example.com
Readers need to recognize newspaper’s confirmation bias
I have always found it more informative to sidestep reading Yelp and Amazon cheerleading, five-star reviews. Instead, I read the negative comments. What'’'s more constructively informative: Reading “the backpack was lovely”? Or reading: “several reviews reported the zippers ripped out after one week of use”? Sadly, too many smart people read the San Francisco Chronicle’s articles as five-star facts instead of as insight to the direction of forthcoming social experiments.
In a December 22, 2019 editorial the Chronicle advocated for spreading the homeless crisis and shelters throughout the far reaches of the City, and refuted obvious concerns about potentially increased larceny crimes by reporting: “Despite the fact that the evidence shows no link between the presence of Navigation Centers and neighborhood crime.” Have you ever tried to purchase something at a homeless-centric downtown Walgreens or CVS? It’s all locked-up!
One week later (12/29/2019) Joaquin Palomino and Jill Tucker revisited the Chronicle’s signature series about falling juvenile crime rates, claiming: “But at a time when youth crime in California is plummeting to historic lows …”
Not only do the words “arrests” and “crimes” have different definitions in all English dictionaries, there is also considerable evidence that the Chronicle never even contacted the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to research the level of crimes committed by juveniles who were not arrested.”
Because I have written recent articles based on responses to public records requests for the Westside Observer about increased San Francisco juvenile crime trends as well as increased larcenies around Navigation Centers, I was perplexed at how the Chronicle arrived at such conflicting statistics. On December 30, 2019 I emailed Chronicle editor Audrey Cooper, and publisher and CEO William Nagel, enclosing links to my two articles. I accused Chronicle writers of using “completely inaccurate statistics.” And, I specifically indicted the Chronicle for intentionally mischaracterizing fewer juvenile “arrests” as evidence of reduced juvenile “crimes.” Not only do the words “arrests” and “crimes” have different definitions in all English dictionaries, there is also considerable evidence that the Chronicle never even contacted the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to research the level of crimes committed by juveniles who were not arrested.
Ms. Cooper and Mr. Nagel elected not to defend the Chronicle’s integrity. They ignored answering my email.
Subsequent to my email, I learned by following a hyperlink in the Chronicle’s digital version that the referenced quote on unaffected crime rates around new navigation centers was based entirely on a single study made by a lone graduate student, Miki Bairstow. She only measured unchanged crime rates in homeless-centric neighborhoods, which is like measuring the effect of a new Starbucks in Manhattan while ignoring how a new Starbucks would impact a one-coffee shop town.
More frightening, the Chronicle — which is often used as an analytical source for San Francisco Board of Supervisors policy-making decisions — relied on such an important editorial proclamation based on the unverified findings of a solo graduate student whose LinkedIn profile claims that while she was conducing her analysis, she was simultaneously was acting as a “policy consultant” to the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH). Whether Bairstow was a consultant or an unpaid intern does not detract from the fact she had a conflicting relationship with HSH, and it appears her study lacked independence from the conflicts of interest with, and pressures to please, HSH.
In her January 22, 2020 Fifth & Mission podcast, editor Cooper interviewed the Chronicle’s Phil Matier on the steep increase of juveniles robbing and stealing electronic devices at San Francisco BART stations. At 4:51 into the podcast, Cooper asked Matier, “It’s really interesting, you said juveniles are committing these crimes, why is that?” And yet, despite her most famous columnist detailing the growing San Francisco juvenile crime problem, a few days later (1/28/2020) Cooper allowed Chronicle staff writer Jill Tucker to reference the “vanishing juvenile crimes” in yet another article, while continuing to intentionally mislabel arrests as crimes.
If Ms. Cooper’s disregard of my accusations were an isolated case, it would be one thing. However, it appears that rather than reporting factual news, the Chronicle has zealously cherry-picked crime trends that currently serve the Chronicle’s we-don’t-need-arrests agenda.
In July 2019, when juveniles shot up the Tanforan Mall, the Chronicle misquoted the San Bruno police chief’s identifying descriptive elements of the violent juveniles who had escaped into the public. Because the censorship of the violent juveniles’ description might have delayed the public’s assistance, I questioned the Chronicle writer and was arrogantly blown off: “The [identification description censorship] decision was made by people above our pay scale.”
On January 3, 2020 the Chronicle presented homicide totals in 2019 for San Francisco and the Bay Area. The Chronicle calculated that Orinda had zero homicides in 2019, despite the five Orinda Airbnb homicides last Halloween that made national news. Additionally, the Chronicle painted an 11% San Francisco five-homicide decline as “fall(ing),” while an almost reciprocal 10% increase for the Bay Area was airbrushed as a “leveling-off.” Talk about slanting your words!! For consistency, perhaps the Chronicle should only tally homicides if someone is arrested, the same way they only count juvenile crimes if a juvenile is arrested.
As an avid reader, to me the greatest evidence of the Chronicle’s selective filtering was their dropping of the nationally bestselling books list from its Sunday Pink Section, and replacing it with only presenting what is selling in the Bay Area bubble. Figuratively burning the nationally-popular books list illustrates the Chronicle’s efforts to ratchet up confirmation bias to shield its readers from considering competing viewpoints. The Chronicle and Cooper are adept at presenting selective evidence to support what they already believe, while ignoring and rejecting evidence that might support a different conclusion, a fact our Board of Supervisors wantonly ignore.
In our confirmation-bias drenched world, it has become increasingly more important for us to stop nodding “Yes” to the daily political emails from our friends, and instead start listening to the opposition and challenging their message(s). Gravitate to the one-star reviews because they represent constructive criticism. Conservatives should watch MSNBC and liberals should watch Fox.
And, as much as cable networks rely on skewed echo chambers to amplify their opinions, the Chronicle is equally guilty of perpetuating skewed groupthink ¾ a sad testament for a historic newspaper that refuses to defend its analyses.
Read the Chronicle for insights into the next foggy social experiments coming at us. But subscribe to the Westside Observer as an antidote to the Chronicle’s flawed and unsubstantiated analyses.
Lou Barberini resides in the West Portal area. He has been writing for the Westside Observer for four years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fewer Arrests Don’t Represent Reduced Crime
June 1997: An off-duty police officer was riding on a MUNI bus when he saw two juveniles steal a tourist’s purse. The officer exited the bus and followed the juveniles until backup from Northern Station arrived to arrest the juveniles for “grand theft.”
August 2016: The same off-duty police officer was bicycling on Phelan Avenue when he saw a man dart from Ocean Avenue into the bushes of an empty City College campus. The man’s face nervously scanned right and left, as if he was at center court watching a Ping-Pong match. The off-duty cop continued biking. The next day the officer learned the man had stolen a woman’s purse.
Were these examples of how indifference gradually creeps into police officers’ attitudes over time? No, they are examples of how Proposition 47 changed the definition of what a felony is, and how it prohibits officers from arresting suspects for misdemeanor offenses. Same victim trauma; different statutory consequences.
In its Vanishing Violence series, the Chronicle stated: “The youth crime decline would be easier to believe, experts said, if they understood why it happened,” and went on to speculate that crime might have declined because of less lead poisoning. Seriously? A friend of mine told me there are no fish in the ocean because he didn’t catch any fish yesterday. Hey Chronicle, now there’s a story!”
Prior to the passage of Prop 47 in November 2014, if a thief stole an iPhone or a purse, it was deemed a felony, regardless of the value of the item stolen. Prop 47 — falsely billed as the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act” — redefined “grand theft” as a felony only if the victim’s property had a minimum value of $950, ignoring that victims suffer the same anguish, humiliation, and violation of personal safety as before.
Under the law, the 1997 incident above was indisputably felony grand theft, while the 2016 incident above — solely because of Prop 47 — was only a felony if there was a $950 minimum value in the purse. Less than $950 in the purse? A police officer can’t make the arrest; the victim must make a citizen’s arrest.
Thus, under the illogic of Prop 47, if Thief A and Thief B each steal purses with $500 inside, but if the purse Thief A snatched also happened to contain a valuable wedding ring, Thief A would be booked into county jail. But if the purse Thief B snatched lacked a valuable wedding ring the Thief would just receive a ticket on a traffic violator form. Neither thief has x-ray vision and their intents were the same. Steal from a rich person, go to jail. Steal from a poorer person, receive a misdemeanor citation on a traffic ticket.
Prop 47 had the effect of suppressing the reporting of grand thefts and larceny crimes for three reasons: First, for the thieves, there was now no immediate threat of a trip to county jail unless they were both caught and the stolen property exceeded $950 in value. Second, when victims (or tourists) are told that they must make a citizen’s arrest, the victims recognize the futility of taking further action. Ms. Tourist do you mind flying back here from Vermont to testify in court? Third, there is no benefit for an officer to chase a thief if the victim must agree to make a citizen’s arrest first, and the outcome most likely will be a misdemeanor citation on a traffic ticket.
Predictability, more traumatized victims are not reporting crimes, resulting in San Francisco’s larceny crime wave ascending to national records, while arrests collapsed to historic lows. Declining arrest rates are a reflection of San Francisco politics, implicit demographic arrest quotas, and a disconnected police chief.
In this environment, in March 2019 the San Francisco Chronicle penned a “Vanishing Violence” series, stating specifically, “San Francisco recorded a particularly dramatic reduction in juvenile crime” and advocated for the closing of Juvenile Hall. A few days after publication, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to study closing Juvenile Hall, and then in June, voted 11-0 to close the juvenile facility by 2021.
Steal from a rich person, go to jail. Steal from a poorer person, receive a misdemeanor citation on a traffic ticket.”
But how accurate was The Chronicle series? Factoring in how many San Franciscans and tourists have voiced complaints about the pervasive lawlessness and the record level of property crimes and auto break-ins, The Chronicle’s findings seem to have diverged from the public’s perception.
1) There is a difference between arrest statistics and reported crime statistics. The Chronicle only tallied juvenile arrests and ignored the total crimes being committed by juveniles that were recorded by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD).
2) The Chronicle cited that between 2017 and 2018, juvenile arrests dropped 11% nationwide. In response to my November public record requests, SFPD data shows that between 2017 and 2018, juvenile crimes increased 12%, confirming there is a distinction between arrests and levels of juvenile crime.
3) The delayed responses to multiple, successively reworded public records requests to pull SFPD’s total number of juvenile crimes in 2017 and 2018 made it apparent to me that The Chronicle never ventured down the same road of inquiry. It was easier for The Chronicle to arrive at its erroneous reduced-arrests, therefore reduced-crime conclusion.
4) Because what was considered an arrestable felony offense prior to Prop 47 is no longer a felony, The Chronicle’s yearly trend analysis is effectively an apples-to-oranges comparison.
5) The Chronicle uses different assumptions depending on which side of a cause they are advocating. When promoting zero San Francisco traffic deaths (Vision Zero), The Chronicle has disparaged SFPD for writing too few traffic citations, which means the writers assumed that SFPD does not catch all traffic violators. However, when it came to advocating closing Juvenile Hall, the assumptions were changed to conclude that SFPD catches all juvenile criminals and no juvenile crimes exist beyond the juveniles arrested.
6) The Chronicle also used different scales depending on what they were advocating. For traffic deaths and Vision Zero, The Chronicle just used recent year-to-year comparisons, ignoring that precipitous fall in traffic fatalities since the ‘70s. Yet, for its Vanishing Violence series, The Chronicle contrasted current arrests to the ‘80s, ignoring the Department of Justice recent survey that reported between 2014 and 2018 juvenile victims of violent crimes had increased 20%.
On a different project, Chronicle (10/24/19) writers published the results of their test of the fastest mode of transportation between Powell and Market Streets and the Warrior’s new arena. Defying physics, a Chronicle writer biking at an absurd 3.7 mph, arrived four minutes after a Chronicle writer who had walked. Another example of finger-on-the-scale agenda journalism — like using arrests instead of reported crimes to purport preposterous conclusions.
In its Vanishing Violence series, The Chronicle stated: “The youth crime decline would be easier to believe, experts said, if they understood why it happened,” and went on to speculate that crime might have declined because of less lead poisoning. Seriously?
A friend of mine told me there are no fish in the ocean because he didn’t catch any fish yesterday. Hey Chronicle, now there’s a story!
Lou Barberini spent 21 years with SFPD. He can be reached at email@example.com
And what does this mean for the safety of the public?
The scariest moments of my life—Zephyr Cove September 4, 2019
With a pack of friends, I was making an annual biking lap around Lake Tahoe. With only 4 miles to go, the skies dumped cloudbursts and hail.
I waited out the storm under an overhang. When the rain abated, I slogged on through the standing water and salt that still congregated on Highway 50. Trucks gleefully aimed at puddles, an opportunity to douse a hated bike rider.
Visibility was zero. Ensuring that vehicles would see me, I militantly took over the entire slow lane of the highway. I could hear the brakes of speeding cars as they swerved around at the last second.
Climbing Zephyr Hill was peak danger because the difference between the approaching cars and me was the greatest. A reddish SUV approached and sat on my tail refusing to pass, even when the waves of cars dissipated. I climbed and cursed him. Numerous opportunities to pass, yet halfway up the hill, the driver remained on my backside.
… unlike other violent crimes (homicides, aggravated assaults, and rapes) that involve a relationship or association between the felon and the victim, robberies are committed on random and vulnerable victims. These independent victims are the ones that corroborate the arrestees’ descriptions—not SFPD.”
I’m slow mentally, and it took me ¾’s up the hill for me to finally realize that this driver, matching my 12 miles per hour assent, was actually blocking the speeding cars now behind the both of us.
At the crest of the hill, I gave him the finger—the deliberate index finger pointed directly at him, with a slowly mouthed “thank you.”
As he drove off, I said to myself “he must have been a cop.”
Officers with The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) are suffering. Multiple SFPD officers asked me to write about the 100 to 150 SF police officers that are in the various interview stages of transferring to surrounding suburban Bay Area police departments. That means 5 to 9% of the entire SFPD force is potentially on the move.
This mass unprecedented SFPD exodus, with serious safety consequences to the underserved citizens of San Francisco, is based on three forces: compensation that no longer exceeds the suburbs, and the twin working environment issues of a disparaging media, and an overzealous police oversight body that buys into the media’s agenda coverage.
The surrounding suburbs, absent the taxing police work of political interferences, have either caught up to SFPD’s compensation or now exceed it. When a SFPD officer transfers into a suburban police department, that department saves the $100,000 to $200,000 in training costs it takes to graduate a recruit through an academy. The other side of this equation is that 100 to 150 officers departing San Francisco translates to $15-million to $30-million of future costs SFPD will incur to replace the exiting veterans with fresh recruits through the SFPD Academy.
A Disparaging Media Narrative:
In the bay area’s current #1 selling book, Malcolm Gladwell, through the luxury of hindsight, authors a 33-page dissection of a Texas traffic stop. (I am so thankful that the reddish SUV, didn’t take 33-pages to size up that I needed immediate help.)
Gladwell bases his premises on numerous uninformed interpretations of the law. For instance:
1) A Texas state trooper is not allowed to pull over a vehicle running a stop sign exiting a college campus (Actually Gladwell, Texas law allows an officer to do this.)
2) A motorist is required to get out of the way of a police officer driving with neither his vehicle’s lights nor sirens on. (Think about this: per Gladwell, if you saw a SFPD police car just going to get gas, you would have to immediately pull over.)
3) A person that grabs an item without paying for it and shoves the storeowner at his throat while exiting, has only merely committed “shoplifting,” (No Gladwell, this meets 50 states’ definition of “robbery.”)
Gladwell’s preconceived anti-law enforcement views are pretty apparent. As are the predetermined police views of the last District Attorney (DA), who authored Prop 47; social justice advocates; and the police oversight bodies who all buy into the skewed political narrative of Gladwell’s World.
These are the same groups that propagate that certain undersized demographic segments of SF are over-targeted and represent a disproportionate amount of subjects arrested. Despite these cemented beliefs, in response to my recent public records request, SFPD shared that they reported to the FBI that of the 1,063 suspects arrested for robbery in 2018, 74.7% came from the 17% segment of the SF population that the Gladwell World-advocates claim are over-arrested.
Robberies are a unique statistical measure, because unlike other violent crimes (homicides, aggravated assaults, and rapes) that involve a relationship or association between the felon and the victim, robberies are committed on random and vulnerable victims. These independent victims are the ones that corroborate the arrestees’ descriptions—not SFPD.
Let’s be clear, serious socioeconomic environmental issues exist that drive crime, and everyone is aware of the horrible texting history by a small group of SFPD officers. But rather than discussing the causes of crime, the anti-law enforcement groups have scapegoated SFPD into the no-win citywide demographic arithmetic.
To not be deemed racist, SFPD officers are placed in the impossible situation that they must adhere to an implied arrest quota that is proportional to the city’s total population, instead of to the demographic percentages in the crime centric Tenderloin, 6th Street corridor, and Mission Street. This is a lose-lose position that drives SFPD officers to the suburbs where law enforcement is more appreciated.
Department of Police Accountability (DPA):
There may be a perception issue that within any municipalities’ Internal Affairs (IA) division that there is potential for IA officers to investigate fellow officers they might be acquainted with. However, that same argument cannot be made about the independence of DA investigators appointed by a city-elected District Attorney.
Over the past few years, the DPA has conflicted with the determinations of both SFPD’s IA and the DA.
In a court case involving an officer capturing a gun from a fleeing felon, Judge Stephen Murphy said, “I have concerns about the officers’ credibility.” Independent of IA and DA investigations, DPA alone rushed to rule the officer “lied.” There is a huge difference between “lying” and not being “credible.” I could write about the structural engineering mistakes made on the Millennium Tower and be honest, but I definitely would not be credible. And yet, before the IA or DA have completed their investigation, the DPA’s rushed findings embarrassed the officer in a various media outlets.
The DPA recently overruled SFPD’s IA and the DA’s investigative findings and ruled that the firing of a less-than-lethal beanbag at a suspect brandishing a machete “aggravated” and “escalated” the situation. How is this different from our readers, on Monday morning, judging that a run would have been more effective than a pass that was intercepted? Just as it is unfair for us to question a quarterback’s decision under the threat of 250+ linemen trying to squash him, it is equally unrealistic for the DPA, in the calm of their carpeted offices, to use hindsight to render judgment on how an officer should defend his life in the microseconds of the street. This is no longer an issue for this officer, he departed to a neighboring jurisdiction.
These incidents are evidence of an overzealous Department of Police Accountability, and illustrate:
Surrounding jurisdictions are accepting SFPD officers who are still under investigation because they recognize that discipline is a consequence more of a political agenda than wrongdoing,
Unlike IA and DA investigators’ training curriculum, there is no publicized investigative training for criteria for DPA investigators,
There is no oversight of DPA. If an officer wants to dispute a DPA’s finding, SFPD General Order 2.04 fiats the only recourse is to file a complaint back to DPA.
SFPD Needs A Chief That Is A Leader:
Like my failure to recognize the good intentions of the red SUV driver, the public often misses the silent shield law enforcement protects us with. Street cops desire to be purposeful and productive. For 21-years I witnessed the daily selfless and altruistic acts of SF street cops, which was concealed by the specious arrest math and false narrative the local papers spouted. It’s not just SFPD officers fleeing that is a problem, it’s that SF has no farm team. SFPD could only get 20 students into the current Academy class (of which 6 are repeating), which is evidence of the nationwide recognition of SF’s harsh political environment. And it’s not the cost of homeownership.
To stem the downward spiral of effective police work, SFPD needs the chief to stop drinking the fake stats kool-aid and instead campaign to improve the impossible position in which the media and DPA have placed his troops..
To the other Will Scott-Sgt. Will Scott who once bought narcotics from a seller named Scott on Scott Street, I know you now are “in the wind.” 10-7, Sarge. Rest in peace.
Lou Barberini worked 21-years with SFPD following his father’s 30-year career. Sergeant
If you step back and connect the dots, the reason for the hurried campaign to convert Juvenile Hall to a navigation center (homeless shelter) becomes much clearer.
San Francisco’s growing and conspicuous homeless population frequently is the butt of national media ridicule, enough so that in July 2018 the American Medical Association pulled its $40 million, five-day convention from San Francisco because of safety concerns for its members. Our entire $40 billion tourist industry is currently threatened by the City’s years-long dysfunctional handling of its homeless situation.
Closing Juvenile Hall would hurt kids in San Francisco that have committed serious crimes but need the support of their families and communities. These kids would be shipped off to other counties’ facilities and taken out of San Francisco when they need their support networks the most. The worst part is that we would be putting the burden of travelling to whatever far flung place on the families of these kids.
Here’s City Hall’s new plan: Why not hide the homeless, away from tourist’s view, on the Westside of the city?
Closing Juvenile Hall:
The first step to saving tourism was the Chronicle’s “Vanishing Juvenile Crime Rate” series, which argued that Juvenile Hall was both expensive and the demographic composition of arrested juveniles was not perfectly proportional to the demographics of the city. The Chronicle has never disputed the percentage of juveniles arrested by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) directly correlates to the descriptions made by victims and 9–1–1 callers. Instead, the Chronicle messaged that arrest ethnic inequities are more important than the safety of the public.
Just hours after the series was published by the Chronicle, without even questioning the newspaper’s propaganda, San Francisco Board of Supervisors Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen, and Matt Haney launched a campaign to close Juvenile Hall, culminating in a 10-to-1 vote on June 4 to close it by 2021.
Ironically, within a month of the Supervisors’ vote, the vanishing juvenile crime rate resurfaced in international news reports that two people at the Tanforan Mall were shot by alleged San Francisco juveniles, followed by a very recent San Francisco Juvenile Hall graduate allegedly being involved in the July murder of an Italian police officer, followed by the brazen, indiscriminate August rush hour shooting on Market Street involving at least one alleged juvenile (captured on KTVU). Vanishing juvenile crime rate?
After Identifying Homeless Centric Zones, Ignore Reality
The second step to saving San Francisco’s tourism was to sell the conversion of Juvenile Hall into a homeless center. In the August 27, 2019 Chronicle, District Attorney (DA) candidate Leif Dautch stated his desire for repurposing Juvenile Hall into a 150-bed mental health treatment center.
Consider the illogic of Dautch’s hypocrisy of not rewarding a homeless shelter to his own Cow Hollow neighborhood, and instead gifting it to the Westside. In January 2018, the City recognized and mapped the five most homeless-centric population “zones” in the city and organized the Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC) to provide services to those concentrations of homeless. The HSOC maps cover just nine-square-miles of the 49-square mile city.
This initial City survey of the most concentrated homeless “zones” perfectly matches the nationally-famous “poop maps.”
Comparing the HSOC “zones” and “poop map” confirms few homeless folks are living on the streets anywhere near Juvenile Hall.
San Francisco’s current homeless “zones” share three necessary common requirements:
1. All the zones are proximate to commercial retail stores, where larceny and successful panhandling can, and does, occur.
2. With the slight exception of the Castro, all of the zones are in flat, low-lying areas conducive to moving one’s belongings.
3. The zones are close to either BART or MUNI lines, with direct connections to other homeless zones.
Although Juvenile Hall does have a commercial area ⅛ of a mile away, it misses the other two important requirements: 1) The facility is at 565 feet in altitude, and 2) There are no direct MUNI lines connecting to other homeless zones. By contrast, given the potential for extending the Central Subway to the Marina, Dautch’s Cow Hollow neighborhood is obviously a much superior site than Juvenile Hall for building a homeless shelter.
All of the above make the unexplainable rush to create a large homeless shelter where the homeless currently don’t congregate — and to completely contradict the entire 2018 HSOC surveys and the two-year HSOC manpower surge — rather curious. By connecting these dots, it points to a city trying to protect tourism by exporting the homeless through designating Juvenile Hall a magnet facility.
Typically-Amateurish SFPD Crime Statistics
A new homeless shelter on Woodside Avenue should be of concern to Westside residents because it will expose children attending St. Brendan’s Elementary School (three-tenths a mile away) and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts students directly across the street, to both the mentally unstable and substance abusers committing larcenies to support their habits.
To assuage the fears of residents inheriting the increased crime of the City’s homeless migration strategies, both Director Jeff Kositsky of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) and Mayor London Breed recently issued identical public statements:
“In general, we know the data shows there is no link between the creation of a Navigation Center and an increase in crime in the surrounding area.”
Identical public record requests were submitted to both Kositsky and the Mayor requesting the crime data they had cited.
The Mayor’s office immediately provided the SFPD crime data and the email chain transmitting the data. HSH mysteriously contends it somehow received the SFPD crime data with absolutely no accompanying email communications. Evidently, the data just fell out of the sky onto Kositsky’s desk.
There were many glaring problems with the “in general” crime stats SFPD assembled:
1. SFPD’s stats compared crimes that occurred within ⅛ of a mile (660 feet) to ¼ of a mile (1,320 feet) for only four of existing homeless Navigation Centers. This ridiculously small distance assumes the homeless are mobile enough to arrive at the proposed Juvenile Hall facility via walking or several MUNI transfers, but are incapable of wandering more than 1,320 feet from the facility. The Juvenile Hall campus itself exceeds 660 feet in length!
2. SFPD double-counted crime stats that occurred within 660 feet of a Navigation Center with crimes that occurred between 660 feet and 1,320 feet. Thus, the crimes within the 1,320 feet radius are definitely an inaccurate number.
3. SFPD aggregated some Navigation Center data using 12-month periods with other Centers using 4-month periods of data. When grouped together, this means the 4-month periods were incorrectly given the same weight as 12-month periods, skewing data results.
4. The SFPD crime stats included all crime statistics, many of which aren’t germane to the homeless, because larcenies are, by far, the most frequent crime committed by the homeless.
5. Crime is seasonal, with increased crime occurring during the tourist season and Christmas. For the Bryant Street Navigation Center, SFPD compared the last two months of 2018 when San Francisco received two inches of rain to the first two months of 2019, when we experienced 8.8 inches (400% more) of rain that suppressed crime.
To account for seasonality, a real statistician would have compared January/February 2018 to January/February 2019. Applying this professional comparison to the Central Waterfront Navigation Center at 600 25th Street shows larcenies increased 78% after the shelter was opened, not the 33% decrease for all crimes within ⅛ of a mile reported to the Mayor and Kositsky.
6. Importantly, SFPD did not provide the Mayor or Kositsky crime data surrounding the fifth Navigation Center at the Civic Center, the City’s longest-operated Center in a known high-crime area.
A “Solution” That Solves Nothing:
Media reports show three DA candidates Chesa Boudin, Suzie Loftus, and Leif Dautch all support closure of Juvenile Hall.
The fourth DA candidate, Nancy Tung, does not support the conversion stating: “Creating a navigation center/mental health center at Juvenile Hall doesn’t solve the issues we have. Mental health beds are going unused at SFGH already and the City hasn’t done enough to use the laws we have on the books to get people into treatment. Moving the problem to the Westside doesn’t change anything, unless homeless people are accepting treatment for mental health or drug issues [because] they’re not mandated into treatment now.”
“Closing Juvenile Hall would hurt kids in San Francisco that have committed serious crimes but need the support of their families and communities. These kids would be shipped off to other counties’ facilities and taken out of San Francisco when they need their support networks the most. The worst part is that we would be putting the burden of travelling to whatever far flung place on the families of these kids.”
It is completely nonsensical to decentralize treatment, services, food, and staffing throughout our gridlocked, dense city. Yet when Mayor Breed is provided fake crime stats and homeless zone surveys that contradict themselves from one year to the next; how can we expect the mayor to see the absurdity of converting Juvenile Hall to a homeless shelter where there is no homeless problem?
Full Disclosure: The author has contributed to Ms. Tung’s campaign for D.A.
Lou Barberini spent 21 years with SFPD after working for a Big Four firm and as a financial advisor. He has an MBA in Taxation, the AICPA’s Financial Specialist designation, and currently provides fiduciary retirement planning and investment services through Nich Capital Partners. He can be reached at
My father abandoned us. We didn’t see him for months. When he wasn’t working, he buried himself in the solitude of an isolated room — studying for the SFPD sergeant’s exam. During that period, he shared with me the subject matter, like the ridiculously important California Vehicle Code law, Section 23114(a), that only feathers from live birds and clear water are legally allowed to escape from a moving vehicle.
The San Francisco Civil Service Commission scored my father’s test and then the identity-centric groups protested that the test was discriminatory. Some of the complainants admitted that they neither bothered to acquire the study materials, nor bothered to study, because of the presumption the test was discriminatory.
Forty years later, nothing has changed.
|Chief William Scott sworn in by Mayor Lee / Photo: Courtesy LA Sentinal|
In prior articles, I have addressed how SFPD Chief Bill Scott has ignored the Civil Service Commission’s test rankings for the current SFPD sergeant, lieutenant, and captain candidates. Instead, the Chief has either bypassed higher scoring candidates on the promotional lists, or worse, temporarily promoted officers who never even took the promotional test.
Rewarding childhood friends and schoolmates, or the elected leaders of identity unions with leapfrogged promotions proliferated under the prior SFPD administration. Chief Scott has merely continued the practice of ignoring civil service rankings, while from a statistical perspective quite obviously kept his eye on meeting identity quotas.
Ironically, with no attorneys on the SFPD command staff, during the last two captain’s tests both of the past two Chiefs sidestepped promoting lieutenant/lawyers to captain. Bizarro World: Why promote a person having a postgraduate law degree to captain, when you can promote a person who never took the test and only has a high school diploma to temporary captain?
Officers who are assigned to a temporary rank, but never tested for that rank, are beholden to superiors as “yes men,” or they risk forfeiting the unearned, but accompanying, pay raise.”
By ignoring the merits of the promotional tests, SFPD is demoralized in several ways:
How can we expect a sergeant to respect another sergeant who scored lower on the civil service test, but has now been promoted to be his/her lieutenant?
How can we expect a sergeant to respect a “temporary” lieutenant who never even tested for the lieutenant’s rank?
Officers who are assigned to a temporary rank, but never tested for that rank, are beholden to superiors as “yes men,” or they risk forfeiting the unearned, but accompanying, pay raise. By contrast, an officer who has been promoted in rank order is in a secure enough non-temporary position to act as a sounding board to their superiors, for example by voicing opposition to serving a search warrant on a journalist.
|Lou Barberini, father of the author, joins the line to welcome President Dwight Eisenhower (Lou is third from the right)|
Deviating from the civil service test creates a two-tier us versus them suspicious mentality amongst SFPD. Are you connected? Were you in the chief’s high school class?
The two-tiered department creates a legacy of distrust, so that subsequent generations are reluctant to take a promotional test that ends up being contingent upon one’s identity or juice.
On July 8, 2019 the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association (POA) filed a grievance against Chief Scott for bypassing candidates on the Civil Service promotional lists by promoting lower-scoring candidates based on identity or juice, and for filling openings with officers who didn’t even take the test. The POA cited the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the POA and SFPD. MOU Paragraph 122 states:
“… when a vacancy occurs in a promotional rank, an eligible list exists for that rank, a position exists in the budget for the promotion and an appointment is made, the promotional appointment shall be made immediately and on a permanent basis.”
On July 15, 2019 Chief Scott responded to the POA’s grievance, stating Paragraph 122 is about “timing” and it means that: “… when promotional appointments are made, they must immediately be made.” In other words, Scott believes that he can reward whom he wants because the agreement doesn’t require him to make a decision; only when he actually gets around to making a decision then he must immediately appoint someone. Chief Scott’s Clintonesque word-parsing of the definition of “immediate” may have created a slippery slope, because officers can now apply his liberal interpretation to the protocol defined by the Department’s General Orders (DGO’s).
Consider DGO 5.05 I(c)(3), which fiats how supervisors should monitor vehicle pursuits: “When the risks appear too unreasonable, the supervisor shall immediately order the pursuit terminated.” Now a supervisor can say, “Per my chief’s definition of immediate, I too was processing the situation. Only after I completed my thought process was I required to make a decision to order the pursuit be immediately terminated.”
For city residents, the morale of SFPD officers, or whether the 172nd candidate on the sergeant’s list vaults over the 22nd candidate, may not appear important. However, there are gigantic economic costs not only to other city employees, but also to the taxpayers who have to backstop the underfunded San Francisco Employees Retirement System’s (SFERS) pension fund.
When Chief Scott promotes lieutenants who never took the captain’s test to “acting captain,” it equates to a $40,000 annual raise for the “acting captain” position. No big deal from an SFPD budget perspective. Chief Scott is just shifting the $40,000 from a more deserving candidate sidelined sitting on the bench to a less qualified person.
But what about the cost to the SFERS pension? Usually, “acting captains” are appointed close to retirement. The officer banks the extra $40,000 in their final year’s paychecks; and then for the next 30 years of life expectancy, receives 90% of that $40,000 in increased pension benefits. In other words, frequently for just one year of service, the Chief has granted over $1 million in additional retirement compensation. Wouldn’t a CEO in the private sector perform a cost/benefit analysis before paying an employee an extra $1 million over 30 years for a single year of “temporary” service?
Chief Scott recently rewarded a lieutenant who was the former president of an identity union, but who never took the captain’s test, with a temporary captain’s position. She responded to the gift of the $1 million pension spike by suing SFPD and the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association with a $2.5 million discrimination lawsuit.
Including the aforementioned victim of discrimination, SFPD officers recently tallied that Chief Scott has promoted 11 “acting captains,” which means that he has unnecessarily tapped the SFERS pension fund for over an additional $11 million. The same SFPD inside tabulation determined that Chief Scott promoted 18 “acting lieutenants” who will receive pensions of 90% of the $20,000 salary increase over the next 30 years of life expectancy, for a total cost of $9.7 million. For every year’s layer of temporary lieutenants and captains, the cost to the SFERS’ pension is over $20 million. And it is pretty clear that the actuaries for SFERS are out of the loop on budgeting for these off-the-books pension raids via spiked salaries.
In August, Chief Scott asked sergeant and lieutenant candidates to submit their resumes for another round of promotions off the current Civil Service lists. Candidates on the lists are holding their breaths that Chief Scott will not use their resumes (technically called “secondary criteria”) against them by promoting lower-scoring candidates.
Consistent with that fear, also in August, Chief Scott promoted an attorney from the District Attorney’s office to Director of SFPD operations. Like the college music major who became SFPD’s Chief Financial Officer, the attorney’s LinkedIn account displays she has absolutely no operations experience. Meanwhile, a CPA, with oodles of government-certified operations experience, waits on the SFPD sergeant’s promotional list, while making approximately $5,000 per month less than a person who shares none of his expertise.
Patronage and embezzling taxpayer funds are close sisters, and combined with the Chief’s directionless staffing choices, is demoralizing the department and expediting SFPD retirements. Historically unprecedented, in the past few months six young officers have turned in their SFPD guns and stars to work for neighboring agencies. Likewise, it is unprecedented for federal agencies to come into the Tenderloin to conduct street level narcotics enforcement because both SFPD and the District Attorney’s office have failed to address the problem.
Sadly, perhaps Chief Scott’s promotion policies are just reflective of a two-tiered city:
A tourist has their car broken into and SFPD says: We’re too busy to come out. Go home and figure out how to file a police report on-line from our website.
A former major league baseball player has his car broken into and SFPD says: We will be out immediately to dust your car for prints.
A SFPD officer studies for hours for a promotional test: Sorry, your postgraduate degree is not a competitive resume.
A SFPD officer doesn’t even take the same promotional test: You only graduated high school? Don’t worry, we’ll make you a captain!
Chief Bill, it is time to make supporting your cops on the streets your first priority!
Lou Barberini spent 21 years with SFPD, after working for a Big Four firm and as a financial advisor. He has an MBA in Taxation, and currently provides retirement planning and wealth management through Nich Captial Partners. Contact: Lou.firstname.lastname@example.org
SFPD’s Internal Affairs Cowboys
SFPD Academy 1996: Defrauding an Innkeeper Simulation Test
SFPD officer role-playing maître d’: Officer, we served this woman dinner and she is refusing to pay.
SFPD role-playing patron: Officer, I eat at five-star restaurants like this all the time and my husband is an attorney. These are the worst potatoes I have ever been served. They are terrible and I won’t pay for them.
Recruit (Me): This is not a crime of refusing to pay; this is a dispute over the quality of the food — at a five-star restaurant!
Proctor: Failed! You should have offered the maître d’ the opportunity to make a citizen’s arrest on the diner. If you let this diner get away, they will be lined up around the block to eat here for free!
Recruit: Isn’t it wrong to infer this is a crime, and arrest a patron? Wouldn’t we be suggesting negative publicity and damage to the restaurant’s reputation?
For businesses, like five-star restaurants, there is significant intangible value to a business’s brand and reputation that are passionately defended through legal and/or public relations’ departments. Similarly, it is the Internal Affairs division of every police department, like the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), to serve and protect the reputation of the organization they represent to ensure that the public trusts police officers, making interactions more conducive. Ninety-nine percent of Internal Affairs officers possess morally-aligned internal compasses and protect the reputation of SFPD.
... the proximate timing of these investigations points to retaliation against officers who blew the whistle on other matters.”
However, the recent search warrants served on journalist Bryan Carmody by SFPD Internal Affairs(IA) may have damaged the public’s trust of SFPD, while the incident had the unique effect of uniting SFPD street cops and the media to the same side. Many SFPD cops viewed the department as prioritizing nailing the report-leaking officer rather than addressing elevated crime rates, while the media viewed SFPD as trampling over their rights just to mitigate an embarrassing situation.
It is hard to ascertain which SFPD officer signed off on the aggressive stance that a journalist gathering information had committed a crime. While the only person on SFPD’s command staff with a legal foundation from a law degree also happens to supervise the IA unit that served the search warrants on Carmody, more investigation is needed.
The search warrants also raise serious mismanagement issues regarding a small segment of “cowboys,” who have developed a reputation for retaliatory investigations, receiving off-the-books departmental promotions above their earned rank, and possessing sketchy resumes — all while these same IA officers pursued members of SFPD for lesser offenses.
If the search warrants disenfranchised the media’s and public’s trust in SFPD’s Internal Affairs, cops on the streets had already decided the unit was balanced on a wobbly three-legged stool, where investigations are dictated more by whom you offended, rather than any transgression committed.
A History of Retaliation
The following are examples of recent bullying investigations against SFPD officers that were launched soon after an officer raised a whistleblower-type issue.
One officer audio-taped another officer’s comments he felt were racially offensive. Three months after SF Human Resource Director Micki Callahan ruled in favor of the complainant officer, IA coincidentally launched an investigation into the officer who had mistakenly crisscrossed putting his California vehicle registration tabs on the wrong cars he owned. If a civilian stole and displayed false registration tabs that did not belong to him, a SFPD officer would write a 200-word report. For the complainant officer, who confused his own registration tabs, IA prepared a one-inch thick investigative file. Evidence of overkill?
A police union representative believed a conflict of policies existed when an IA captain arrived unannounced at an officer’s home and demanded answers to interrogating questions. The police union rep addressed this issue with a post on Facebook to a private group composed exclusively of members of the SFPD Police Officers’ Association: Does an off-duty officer, at home, have the right to consult with his union rep before he submits to a series of interrogatories from a captain in SFPD’s chain of command? A couple months later, IA launched an investigation against the union rep attributable to an anonymous complaint out of the private Facebook group. Deeming this a retaliatory act by SFPD, the union rep initiated a public records request to IA to learn the identity of his accuser. IA refused to respond to the request.
An officer documented a pay-to-play scheme where the husband of an outside consultant to the city was receiving campaign contributions from suppliers to the city, whose contracts the consultant was subsequently recommending the city should purchase. Within 20 days of the complaint, an investigative detention of a suspect made by the officer 14 years earlier was re-opened to determine if the officer’s background check on the suspect was a SFPD violation of computer use.
There clearly might be another side to these incidents. But it is an irrefutable fact that the proximate timing of these investigations’ points to retaliation against officers who blew the whistle on other matters.
Compensation Creating Conflicts of Interests
Many officers in the department viewed the compensation packages IA rewarded the “cowboys” with as a buyout to secure their loyalty and adherence. One of the officers involved in various stages of the Carmody search warrant was a lieutenant who was rewarded with a captain’s salary and a captain’s pension, even though the lieutenant never qualified for the captains’ civil service promotional list. And a sergeant was compensated with a lieutenant’s salary and pension, even though the sergeant never qualified for the lieutenants’ civil service promotional list.
On June 6, 2019 a group of several SFPD officers launched a civil suit because they had studied, tested, and were placed on sergeants’, lieutenants’, and captains’ civil service promotional lists, but were never promoted. IA snagged these promotions for “cowboys,” despite their never having completed the promotional tests.
Had command rightfully selected an IA captain or lieutenant from respective civil service promotional lists, those officers would have been in a position to question serving multiple search warrants on a journalist without jeopardizing a cut in pay. By contrast, the IA officers acquired through that Faustian bargain could not confront the command without risking their unearned pay raises and pension spikes. Essentially, IA embezzled the promotions of more-deserving City-approved lieutenants and captains just to puppetize his “cowboys” as compromised pawns.
Sketchy Resumes of Internal Affairs Officers
In addition to some IA officers receiving compensation above their earned rank, there were plenty of department whispers about the resumes of some of IA recruits. Had they conducted a simple Google search on one of the recent additions, they would have learned that the new sergeant (receiving lieutenant’s pay) had been investigated by the FBI, though they were unable to conclusively prove that the sergeant knew that the million-dollar remodel of his Marin home was financed by the $768,000 in Danielle Steel’s assets his wife "purportedly embezzled".
Two years earlier, the same sergeant had zealously campaigned to investigate other cops, but his transfer to IA was rescinded because of a vociferous chorus of complaints from within SFPD. Nevertheless, the sergeant was drafted for a second time in late 2018.
IA seems to consistently wear blinders, whether overlooking Article 1, Section 2b of the California Constitution protecting journalists’ sources, or adhering to the SFPD memorandum of understanding that fiats officers’ promotions shall be taken from civil service promotional lists, or by failing to Google the incriminating history of a sergeant who was part of the initial Carmody investigation.
Perhaps there was a calculated gamble using the-ends-justify-the-means search warrants knowing they could outlast the Chronicle’s and other media outlets’ attention spans. Or perhaps — as many street cops have voiced — the get-the-cop search warrant was orchestrated to distract from an exposé of a guest roster at an illicit crash pad, or to distract from the disappearance of the paramour, or to distract from the curious reason why the Medical Examiner suddenly canceled his request for SFPD to respond to Jeff Adachi’s suspicious death scene at 46 Telegraph Place.
Over time, foodies might forget that a five-star restaurant had patrons arrested. Similarly, as the media’s interest in SFPD’s violation of their rights fades when Carmody banks a lucrative settlement from the City as he likely will, the cops on the street will continue to remember the hypocrisy of IA pursuing officers’ venial violations while simultaneously supervising “cowboys” who made the task of patrolling more difficult because the “cowboys” seriously broke the law and damaged SFPD’s reputation.
Lou Barberini spent 21 years with SFPD after working for a Big Four firm and as a financial advisor. He has an MBA in Taxation, the AICPA’s Financial Specialist designation, and currently provides retirement planning and wealth management through Nich Capital Partners. Contact: email@example.com
Circa 1996 SF Police Department (SFPD) Field Training Evaluations first phase: Over our car radio, Seth, my field-training officer (“FTO”) committed us to transport Sergeant Del Torre’s detainee back to Ingleside Station. In the cells at Ingleside, I emptied pint-sized wads of currency that were stuffed into the detainee’s pants pockets. After one of his hands was handcuffed to the cell bench, I squashed his money into a SFPD Currency Envelope.
“Ok Lou, let’s go in the other room and count the money. Then we’ll come back and have him sign a receipt.”
“Seth why can’t we count the money in front of him?”
“We’re the police, were not going to steal his money.”
“I’m more concerned about my CPA license than SFPD policy. I could lose my license for doing it this way. This guy doesn’t like us. He could accuse me of taking a million dollars off of him. How am I going to justify why we had to go to another room to count his money? What’s the risk of counting it in front of him? He’s the only person in the cells, he’s handcuffed, we’ve searched him, and there are two of us. Don’t you think it would be better optics to count the money here?”
Chief Scott promoted 100% of the female candidates. In the first round of sergeants’ promotions, Chief Scott found fault with 70% of the white male candidates, promoting women and officers of color with lower test scores, instead.”
Seth was not the most flexible character. Deeply entrenched in some of his beliefs, his sole desire to be an FTO evaluator was to ensure the craft of policing was passed to the next generation of cops. For a veteran cop to make an independent decision based on a rookie cop’s recommendation — a suggestion that conflicted with widely-accepted SFPD procedures — exemplified Seth’s passion and loyalty to the Department.
New officers’ prior skill sets, such as a CPA’s knowledge of internal control procedures, are invaluable resources to progressing SFPD into the digital age. And it makes sense that those measurable skills, such as having passed the California Bar or being licensed as a CPA, should be factored into department promotions.
The promotional process within SFPD is already an arbitrary process. The existing SFPD sergeants’ and lieutenants’ promotional lists were based on a multiple-choice written pass/fail test, which diluted the efforts of officers who had studied diligently to improve their knowledge above their peers.
The written exam was followed by a subjectively scored oral exam. I sat for the most recent sergeant’s exam, which was unfairly and inconsistently administered by civilian role players. That is not my opinion; that was the decision of the SF Department of Human Resources, which rescinded the test. Over 400 officers, who had spent approximately a quarter-million dollars of vacation time to take the first invalidated oral exam, were again required to waste a second vacation day to take a revised oral exam. (I did not retake the second oral test.) The scores of the second revamped oral test were scored and codified into a ranked list of sergeant-candidates.
Since his arrival, Chief William Scott has frequently boasted about blindly adhering to the hyper-political 2016 Department of Justice assessment of SFPD. There is absolutely no evidence that the Chief has applied any of the statistical education of his college accounting degree to form his own independent interpretations and question the DOJ survey.
For instance, the DOJ reported on page 187 that women comprise 15% of SFPD. Despite the 15% composition, the DOJ surveyed that the rank of sergeant was 19.9% females, lieutenant 18% females, commander 20% females, and deputy chief 16% females. However, despite an overrepresentation of women in every rank other than captain, the DOJ determined that SFPD was completely guilty of gender bias because female captains were three-quarters of a human being deficient, at 14.29% representation.
The San Francisco chief’s position is also 100% male. To comply with the DOJ fractional proportionality requirement, perhaps Chief Scott should step aside for a female chief 15% of the time — which is probably way short of the percentage of nights he sleeps in his Los Angeles home.
From the top 157 candidates on the current sergeants’ promotional list, Chief Scott promoted 100% of the female candidates. In the first round of sergeants’ promotions, Chief Scott found fault with 70% of the white male candidates, promoting women and officers of color with lower test scores, instead. In Scott’s second and last wave of promotions, he still found excuses to skip over 33% of the white males with higher test scores. Scott’s 33% rejection rate for whites exceeds the rejection rate for African Americans of 10%, Hispanics of 20%, and women of 0%.
In the face of the overwhelming statistical evidence that his sergeants’ promotions were discriminatory, on the ABC Channel 7 news, Chief Scott spun, “We look at different set of experiences, different sets of training, different backgrounds, different cultural competencies.” This raises the issue of whether giving Chief Scott vague criteria on the definition of “secondary skills” opened the door for him to play with cronyism, nepotism, and accommodating the various identity tribes who were already overrepresented within SFPD. One must also question: What secondary skills were present in 100% of the female candidates, but absent in so many men?
The evidence that the Chief is using “secondary criteria” to cloak a quota system is evidenced by the fact that of three current SFPD officers who have passed the CPA exam, one of them is idling on the current sergeants’ list. Yet while the first sergeants were being promoted from the current list, Chief Scott’s Chief Financial Officer’s (CFO’s) resume was composed of a music undergrad major along with a master’s degree in political science. Consider: The government has certified that a male candidate on the sergeants’ list is proficient in accounting, internal control, auditing, operations management, government accounting, technology, income taxes, business law, and statistics, while the Chief paid a civilian CFO — who had never taken a class in debits and credits — significantly more money: $192,924 as a Deputy Director III in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018.
Promotions based on race and identity harm the City in four ways:
The department would progress and run more efficiently if the Chief assigned officers with quantifiable skills to the positions that require such skills.
By appeasing and reinforcing the identity tribes through promotions and decorating police vehicles, the Chief is reinforcing the fractionation of the department. Giving only one of your children a gift makes the others feel slighted and resentful.
Because the Chief has promoted out-of-rank order on this recent test, officers promoted from previous tests have told me they believe coworkers now view them as delegitimized and due less respect under the perception that they, too, received the Chief’s gender/race thumb on the scale.
SFPD has perpetually struggled horribly with the presentation of crime stats that seem to change with the same fluidity as water. Placing someone in charge of reporting the crime stats who has expertise in statistics and a CPA license in jeopardy, would add credibility to the Department.
Twenty years ago, Officer Seth was capable of making an independent decision on an internal control suggestion against moving uncounted money into an adjacent room, while an accounting major Chief still allows uncounted suspects’ money to be driven across the city by a single unsupervised officer. This is the result of weighing the cultural competency of a degree in music — and recently promoting her higher than CFO — more than financial skills certified by the state.
Perhaps Chief Scott’s lack of comfort with statistics might explain why he has not challenged the preconceived 2016 DOJ coloring book. But the cost of Chief Scott’s inability to think independently, to ignore testing achievements by window dressing the department in identity colors, and stomping over a journalist’s constitutional rights to chase a possible cop leak, all contribute to a brew of soaring crime rates masked with fake statistics, a demoralized department that makes fewer arrests because they believe the Los Angeles-residing chief cares more about the racial proportionality of arrests than the cops, and a justifiably frightened citizenry.
Lou Barberini spent 21 years with SFPD after working for a Big Four firm and as a financial advisor. He has an MBA in Taxation, the AICPA’s Financial Specialist designation, and currently provides fiduciary retirement planning and investment services through Nich Capital Partners on assets held at Charles Schwab & Co. He can be reached at .
Circa 2003: As we departed Cha Cha Cha, Jennifer was there with her hand out. Not your typical angry, grunge Haight Street panhandler, but more of a Summer of Love flower child. Pretty, but tired. I creased a few singles and tried out a new line, “Can you hook me up with some chiba?” (San Francisco urban language for “heroin.”) Jennifer responded, “Lets go.” Since I was off-duty, I had to tap the brakes: “Here’s my number. Hit me up tomorrow. I’m going away and want to re-up first.”
For several days, Jennifer led me to her hookups. Nondescript cars that circled the Panhandle, dropped off balloons, and then were off to service other customers. And coincidently, for a few days, each deliverer picked up an unmarked car trailing them until an eventual traffic stop was made by a black and white.
Recently, there has been an increasing flotilla of people residing in RV’s and vans on the west side of the city. Living in vehicles has become most prevalent on Sunset Boulevard near San Francisco State University. On one morning, 17 vans and motorhomes were parked consecutively …”
Jennifer confirmed my belief in the prevalence of heroin in the panhandling and homeless communities. For the next several years, many times my partner and I were able turn requests for money into heroin purchases and arrests.
In her April 7, 2019 San Francisco Chronicle column, Heather Knight wrote: “A reader emailed me a photo the other day of a homeless man slumped in a Muni bus shelter next to an ad for the San Francisco Giants’ home opener with the slogan ‘It doesn’t get more S.F.’ These days, it seems it doesn’t get more S.F. then stark displays of the rich and the very poor as the middle class gets squeezed out entirely.”
Homelessness is a complex issue, yet Heather Knight’s column oversimplifies the problem while perpetuating a false conclusion that a person sleeping in a bus stop shelter is the result of income inequalities. Ms. Knight might as well have attributed the homeless person’s status to the Giants’ dismal record, fewer fans attending games, and the reduced need for food service employees.
Beginning in January 2018, San Francisco Police Commander David Lazar has been addressing homeless problems through the Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC). The HSOC strategy is to coordinate a comprehensive response to homeless encampments between 40 SFPD officers assigned to HSOC, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Emergency Management, the Recreation and Parks Department, the Sheriff’s Department, San Francisco Housing Services, and the Department of Public Health.
HSOC was designed as a single phone number (3–1–1) resource for the public and district station officers to call for specialized assistance to handle homeless encampments, with the intention that this will alleviate the station officer’s workload so they can focus on other problems and crimes.
I polled numerous SF police officers who unanimously agree that, at a maximum, only 5% of the San Francisco homeless populations are “victims” of economic issues. The remaining 95% are split somewhat evenly between people with alcohol/drug addiction problems and people with mental illness issues. The HSOC’s own April 5, 2019 study similarly found that 41% of the homeless have an alcohol and/or a drug problem, 39% have psychiatric conditions, and 31% have chronic health problems. The similar assessments coming from the streets refute Ms. Knight’s misplaced claim income inequality causes homelessness.
Amongst the SF homeless population that HSOC deals with, there are differing degrees of living conditions ranging from those sleeping in doorways, to tent encampments, to motorhomes.
Recently, there has been an increasing flotilla of people residing in RV’s and vans on the west side of the city. Living in vehicles has become most prevalent on Sunset Boulevard near San Francisco State University. On one morning, 17 vans and motorhomes were parked consecutively along a three-tenths-of-a-mile stretch. The motorhomes overflow onto Winston Drive and are actually parked within Lowell High School’s campus parking lot. Motorhomes and vans are even parked on Portola Drive adjacent to Saint Francis Woods.
Per my SFPD sources, there are three segments of people residing in vehicles:
Homeless (frequently with bicycles attached to their vehicles). From a law enforcement prospective, not far behind this homeless segment is the narcotics trade and peripheral crimes.
Workers, who earn more money in San Francisco, and then return to their homes in lower-cost-of-living communities on the weekends. This isn’t about income inequality; it’s about people arbitraging earning income in expensive areas and spending their earnings in less expensive communities.
In extreme cases, recreational vehicle owners are renting out their parked vehicles on Craigslist in an Airbnb fashion.
It is difficult for SFPD to engage with people living in vehicles because the occupants are not compelled to open their doors to police officers. Parking in San Francisco is already scarce. The solution for the problem of people living in vehicles cannot be piecemeal restrictive parking as some San Francisco districts, such as the Portola District, have achieved.
Uniform restrictive parking must be applied throughout the city, or the west side will continue to be the welcoming place of least resistance to the motorhomes and vans. A surge in property crimes looms on the horizon, portending that every time we shop at the West Portal Walgreens, we will need to get a clerk to unlock the homeless-proof tubes of toothpaste.
Lou Barberini spent 21 years with SFPD after working for a Big Four firm and as a financial advisor. He has an MBA in Taxation, the AICPA’s Financial Specialist designation, and currently provides fiduciary retirement and investment services.
|Hon. Scott R. Heldfond|
The bothersome thing about the scandal of upper-crust parents cheating to get their kids into prestigious colleges wasn’t the deceit alone; it was the sense of entitlement in wanting to take a tax deduction for the bribes. These were transactions absent any sense of altruism, like volunteering to serve on a nonprofit board just to channel more business to their own company.
Speaking of which, this past month Mayor London Breed and her Chief of Staff Sean Elsbernd relieved Wendy Paskin-Jordan of her position on the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) board of trustees and replaced her with Pacific Heights high society San Franciscan Scott Heldfond, who is a world apart from Breed’s famous rise from housing developments.
Heldfond married the granddaughter of billionaire Benjamin Swig, who acquired the Fairmont Hotel and St. Francis Hotel in the 1940’s. Heldfond is now father-in-law to Eddie DeBartolo’s daughter. He is a lawyer and an insurance executive employed with AON Insurance, and has simultaneously served on several SF commissions, including the San Francisco Health Service System (HSS) for city employees.
The first question city employees should ask is why would Heldfond, whose spouse is a billionaire’s descendent, and who has a history of mishandling conflicting interests, venture into SFERS’ swamp?
If this is an example of how Heldfond invests his personal assets — based on conflict-laden networking and apparently absent due diligence — he will fit in perfectly in the SFERS’ swamp. Perhaps Heldfond can even direct City business to one of his enterprises so at least he gets compensated for his altruism. ”
A Track Record of Conflicts of Interest
While serving on the HSS board, Heldfond’s employer AON Insurance obtained a lucrative contract with the same HSS system. Under pressure from the City Attorney regarding a relationship that appeared to be a conflict-of-interest “perception problem,” on September 1, 2011 Heldfond resigned from serving as a commissioner on the HSS board.
In Heldfond’s resignation letter, he showed neither remorse nor comprehension of the ramifications of AON Insurance receiving an inside advantage over its competition. He stated: “The fact is I feel good about AON getting the business. HSS will save a whopping $1.4 million under the new contract.”
Heldfond’s quote of the $1.4 million in savings is specious. Yes, AON Insurance might have generated $1.4 million in cost savings to the City, but did it come as a tradeoff to sacrificing insurance coverage? Is it any different than my apples-to-oranges claim that I could save SFPD millions in fleet costs by substituting bicycles for vehicles? Without having an HSS board independent from AON Insurance’s interests, we will never know what an objective comparison would have determined.
Considering Heldfond’s misinterpretation of the City Attorney findings, it is incredibly suspicious that Mayor Breed and Sean Elsbernd intentionally bypassed contacting the City Attorney for a clearance on Heldfond by running a “conflicts check” before appointing him to SFERS’ board.
[Editor: For discussion of Heldfond’s previous service to the city, see Patrick Monette-Shaw's article in this issue of the Observer.]
Heldfond’s India Connection
In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle touted Vijay Mallya as the head of “a multinational conglomerate. He has homes around the world. The walls of his Sausalito mansion feature Picasso, Renoir, Chagall, and Turner. He’s got two yachts in California, a few in India, and owns the famed Kalizma — a 165-foot Edwardian yacht once owned by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. He owns a Boeing 727. He says he is ‘the king of good times.’”
At the age of 22, Vijay Mallya’s father was appointed to the board of directors of the Indian conglomerate United Breweries Group (UB Group). Inexperience inherited inexperience, when in 1983 at the age of 27, Vijay took over the company following his father’s passing.
In 1997, three years after Mendocino Brewery of Ukiah went public, Vijay Mallya, through United Breweries bought approximately 70% of the company with much of his stock registered in a Panamanian shell company: Inversiones Mirabel S.A. Per SEC filings, Scott Heldfond joined the Mendocino Brewery board of directors in 2005 and acquired 2% of the company stock.
In 2003, through United Breweries Vijay Mallya started Kingfisher Airlines. The airline was initially financed with massive debt and lost money every year.
In 2009, Mayor Gavin Newsom launched the nonprofit San Francisco–Bangalore Sister City Initiative, with Heldfond participating in the kickoff and serving as a board of director. Coincidently, United Breweries (UB) is headquartered in Bangalore. On the San Francisco–Bangalore Sister City web page, Heldfond boasts he is “an advisor to UB Group (India) and Kingfisher (India).”
During Heldfond’s 14-year relationship with Mallya’s Mendocino Brewery, UB Group, and Kingfisher Airlines companies, it is unclear what impact Heldfond’s advisory services had. Unsurprisingly, king of good times Mallya’s personal empire collapsed under the weight of the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines and Mallya’s $1+ billion in debt owed to Indian creditors. With Indian regulatory bodies issuing an arrest warrant for money laundering and “round tripping” (inflating invoices to overseas companies and then repatriating the money), Mallya fled India in March 2016 and has been hiding out in London as a fugitive fighting extradition.
Heldfond’s LinkedIn biography indicates he was a director of UBICS for 15 years, until 2015. UBICS is the information technology component of of Mallya’s UB Group. In 2010, Heldfond’s filed his Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests as HSS Commissioner showing he earned $100,000+ as a UBICS board director, the same year the company’s comptroller, John Tain, resigned for embezzling $913,230. Tain subsequently served 33-months in a federal prison.
In no way should Vijay Mallya’s financial situation be interpreted as a reflection on Scott Heldfond. However, it does raise questions as to both the effectiveness of Heldfond’s financial or legal guidance to Mallya, his motivation for the Bangalore Sister City project, and his association with the king of good times who allegedly committed gigantic financial crimes. It would be one thing if Heldfond just invested in and served as board member next to Mallya in an Ukiah brewery, while it is quite another to have followed Mallya 8,700 miles to provide him with consulting services. There appears to be indisputable evidence that Heldfond and Mallya have been more intertwined than appears on the surface.
Either Heldfond wasn’t savvy enough to recognize Mallya was financially spiraling — and, therefore, Heldfond is not qualified to sit on SFERS’ board as a fiduciary — or worse, perhaps Heldfond was complicit.
Heldfond’s situation is analogous to the FBI arresting and successfully prosecuting a San Francisco police officer’s wife for embezzling millions from a Pacific Heights author, and then SFPD promoting the police officer to an Internal Affairs position of investigating other SFPD officers (actually a true story). Either the cop, like Heldfond, is very poor at his craft and therefore unqualified for his new position, or both the cop and Heldfond are guilty of looking the other way when the financial crimes were committed in their presence. Red flags either way.
Conflict: Heldfond’s Insurance Business
Any CPA selected to consult SFERS on internal control measures to reduce potential conflicts of interest would draw an immediate distinction between an active fireman or a retired SFPD captain sitting on a board of directors versus an insurance company executive, especially one having a history of compromising conflicts of interest. Heldfond essentially will be a referee in the game AON Insurance plays in.
Heldfond — by voting or not voting for a competitor who is bidding to serve SFERS — affects AON Insurance’s business. This is not to say that Heldfond will do this, but from an internal control vantage he will definitely be in a position to reward business to competitors who can later shift reciprocating soft dollar business back to AON Insurance. Our concerns should be heightened because of Heldfond’s failure to recognize the gravity of his 2011 ethics violations, and his own sense of entitlement, that forced him to resign from the HSS.
A Page From Elsbernd’s Playbook: The No-huddle Offense
Breed and Elsbernd moved quickly to appoint Scott Heldfond to SFERS’ board by skipping the customary “conflicts check” with the City Attorney. This speaks volumes about their fear of delving into Heldfond’s existing conflicts. It’s also a reminder of Elsbernd’s 2012 no-huddle offensive to get Jay Huish, who has similar baggage, promoted to be SFERS’ CEO just before Elsbernd’s own appointment to Retirement Board expired. Rush the questionable candidate through, before the defense can ask questions.
In 2018, Mendocino Brewery and its flagship Red Tail Ale went out of business. If this is an example of how Heldfond invests his personal assets — based on conflict-laden networking and apparently absent due diligence — he will fit in perfectly in the SFERS’ swamp. Perhaps Heldfond can even direct City business to one of his enterprises so at least he gets compensated for his altruism.
Lou Barberini spent 21-years with SFPD after working for a Big Four firm and as a financial advisor. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Circa June 1996: It was the second day for the 186th Academy Class of SFPD. As an icebreaker, our SFPD instructor asked each prospective officer to share with the class where they expected to be in the department 25-years in the future. I said that I wanted to be riding a bicycle — amazed I could actually get paid for something I would do for free. My classmate Drew (alias) followed with, “I want to be chief.” —That literally sounds and reads arrogant. However, the delivery was followed by Drew’s introduction of his trademark giggle, which caused the entire class to roar— more at his chuckle than at the wisecrack itself.
The humor never subsided. Throughout the academy, Eric, the Eddies, Drew, and I frequently bonded over a Tower Lodge beer on our way home, finalized with a final post-graduation toast at the Twin Peaks scenic overlook, as we contemplated the future effects of patrolling the streets below. The next morning we all went our separate ways, to different stations for daily evaluations in the field training program, followed by a year’s rotation in a probation station before being assigned to a permanent station.
3C71 was not exactly loved by some segments of the Potrero Hill housing developments. Our drive up the 900 block of Connecticut would be greeted daily by the choreograph of youngsters turning their heads to spit in unison. It wasn’t us specifically, it was our blue uniforms.”
After a year at my permanent station, I transferred to Bayview— a vast district composed of middleclass neighborhoods, industry, Potrero Hill view homes, and housing developments. Bayview is one of the busiest stations with an organized chaos of citizen calls for service. We joked that time in the Bayview should be measured in dog years — because the amount of critical incidents in the Bayview compressed into a single year was the equivalent of seven years at a sleepy Westside district station.
At Bayview, I joined my academy classmates Eric and Drew in a three-man sector car, 3Charlie71 (3C71) — a “housing car” assigned to the Potrero Hill public housing development. Like the contrast of three small town Deer Hunter friends converging in a volatile Vietnam prisoner camp, there was surrealism to the reunion of three Academy friends from the theories and solitude of a classroom to the split-second commotion of the Bayview.
To Drew and I, the gravity of Bayview housing patrol was eye-opening. But I always wondered how comparatively insignificant our daily events were to someone like Eric, who joined SFPD via combat action as a marine in the Gulf War.
Drew was a dual citizen, the result of his San Francisco mother marrying and following his father back to County Offaly, Ireland. In, as I pronounced it: “County Awfully,” Drew grew up aspiring to return to San Francisco and to become a policeman. He was … living his dream.
3C71 was not exactly loved by some segments of the Potrero Hill housing developments. Our drive up the 900 block of Connecticut would be greeted daily by the choreograph of youngsters turning their heads to spit in unison. It wasn’t us specifically, it was our blue uniforms.
In this unappreciated environment, Drew’s self-deprecation, sarcasm, and trademark giggle kept the mood in our car light. I would repeatedly utter, “It was a bad day if we went more than six minutes without Drew making us laugh.”
The “Thank you Challenge”
At the end of a watch, Lieutenant Mike Stasko called the 3C71 into his office and informed us our job description was expanding. Bayview residents had been complaining about the depreciation of driving skills on Third Street and, the higher-ups had determined that traffic enforcement was the most viable remedy.
Sacrilegious! What type of officer could actually enjoy ruining someone’s day with a citation? (I was of the school that warnings were just as effective as issuing a citation.)
Stasko was not without his own sense of humor and had the ability to raise sarcasm to epic levels. Our rebuttal delivered with the sincerity of selling the substitute teacher that your regular teacher had actually canceled today’s test, was forthcoming.
“There are felonies being committed by the minute, and you are using us for vehicle code violations?”
“The bad guys will go wild if they know we aren’t around.”
“The housing developments will go to sh*t.”
“With us doing traffic, you will single-handedly be driving up the city’s crime rate.”
Stasko didn’t budge, but the hyperbolic cycle was feeding on itself, and bled out of the L.T.’s office and into the report writing room.
“You are just afraid to write tickets because you have a lousy personality and it will trigger citizen complaints.”
“Personality? You couldn’t sell pizza to starving eye-talians.”
“Ha, I could sell ice to Eskimos. I am so smooth that when I write tickets the drivers thank me!”
Thus we inadvertently started the “thank you challenge.” During every traffic stop, the approaching officer had to elicit a “thank you, officer” from the driver, while the competing officer stood on the opposite side of the vehicle as a verifying witness.
“Ma’am, you don’t know how hard this is for me to write this ticket. The neighbors are complaining and I am only doing this to service this community. Please don’t let this ruin your day, nor do I want you to think you are a bad person for this. Think of this just as a reminder to be careful, like how you probably drive more cautiously after a close call with another car. This ticket is like that close call. Just a reminder, because we don’t ever want you to get hurt.”
“Thank you, Officer. I know you are just doing your job.”
The “thank you’s” came much easier than expected, which raised the stakes to how many consecutive “thank-you’s” each of us could acquire. Our goal was still the bare minimum of citations, but the “thank you’s” definitely removed the sting of being the mean cop.
Doing the Opposite
In The Opposite episode of the Seinfeld television series, George Costanza discussed with Jerry Seinfeld that every decision he had made in life turned out to be wrong. Thus, doing the opposite of what he normally would have done must be the right thing to do. George approaches a pretty woman at the coffee counter with the unlikely line: “Hi. My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents,” and for the rest of the episode, George achieved great success.1
With our shift ending at 10 pm, it’s unlikely any of us actually saw “The Opposite” episode of Seinfeld. But on a slow day in the 3C71 car, Drew lamented the neighborhood’s unfriendliness towards us. Drew instigated, “Today, we are going to be the ‘happy cops.’ We are going to mess with everyone’s heads and do the exact opposite of what they expect us to do. We are going to kill the hostility with kindness.”
It started slow, engaging every person walking on the street, “Great weather today sir. How are you?” And as usual, one officer pushed the envelope a little further open. To a person running to catch a MUNI bus that had just pulled away, “Jump in. We’ll give you a ride to catch up to that bus.”
We were fighting to outdo each other.
Flashing the who-has-the-biggest-personality contest struck a crescendo when we saw Busby — a.k.a., the Lieutenant — the owner of an impressive arrest resume struggling to transport groceries from his car to his housing unit.
“Here, let us help you.”
“We want to help you.”
“Ooookay… but you can’t come into my house. You can only bring them to the front door. I’m not consenting to you entering or searching my home or my car.”
“No problem. We’re the friendly cops, we are just here to help the neighborhood.”
Twenty years later, I remember the friendly cop experiment clearly, and yet have no recollection of the run we had to race to that returned us to reality.
This article is not about us being better cops than others. The reality is that the “thank you” challenge and friendly cop experiment were born from the merger of curiosity, boredom, and clowning around. For me personally, learning the limitless power boundaries of playing the good cop or doing-the-opposite of what is expected, de-escalated a lot of tough situations in the future. Those lessons only came to me and others because we always fed on that stupid giggle-cackle that was first heard in the SFPD Academy many years back.
—Éire go Brách, God Bless America!
Lou Barberini spent nine years undercover and four years as a bike beat officer with SFPD. He has an MBA in Taxation and currently provides fiduciary retirement planning and investment services for assets held at Charles Schwab & Co. He can be reached at email@example.com.
SFPD Circa 2012
Midday during my Noe Valley bike beat, a text came in. An informant with a history of providing credible information conveyed someone was trying to sell an assault rifle in the Tenderloin. His veracity increased with the next text: A photo of the assault rifle, followed by a third text providing the seller’s cell number.
I called Tenderloin Station to relay the information to Tenderloin undercover officers, but like present day staffing, the Tenderloin Station had no plainclothes officers working in 2012. I initiated a call into the seller, agreeing to meet him at Eddy and Hyde Streets. Next, I called Mike, the senior plainclothes officer at Mission Station, to posse-up undercovers for a trip to the Tenderloin, but first we had to inform our bosses (I am being intentionally vague) we were going to leave our district.
Unfortunately, bosses told us they were too understaffed due to a tentative naked protest at 17th and Castro Streets. Despite both robberies and burglaries increasing at a 33% rate, and property crimes at a 50% rate, during a two-year period nudity took precedence over a gun designed for mass killings. The seller melted into the chaotic fabric of the Tenderloin.
SFPD was changing!
San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego share similar economic backdrops and enforce a single California Penal Code. Yet, according to the per capita larceny graph (above), derived by dividing the larcenies disclosed in the annual FBI Uniform Crime Reports, by the 2010 U.S. census figures, only SF experienced a seismic spike in crimes starting in 2011.
The 2011 inflection point is attributable to four events: 1) Public Defender Jeff Adachi unveiled videos of undercover officers performing in a less-than-virtuous manner, 2) Mayor Gavin Newsom moved George Gascón from being SFPD’s Chief of Police to being San Francisco’s District Attorney, 3) A new SFPD chief replaced Gascón, and 4) Governor Brown signed AB 109 which transferred “nonviolent” felons from state to local jails and effectively reduced parole violations.
This column is not an attempt to resolve the chicken-and-egg argument of whether crime is up because of the District Attorney’s tepid response to SFPD arrests, or whether SFPD is not making quality enough arrests for the District Attorney’s office to prosecute. The graph (above) clearly illustrates the decline in larcenies attributable to the iPhone kill-switch in late 2013, and the 2015 resurgence of larcenies coinciding with the implementation of the Prop 47 decriminalization measure. For the ten-year period of the graph, the surge in larcenies appears to have affected SF more than the other three large California cities. This article is about the increase in crime rates correlated to SFPD’s reducing or eliminating undercover operations and the current SFPD administration’s continued use of fabricated statistics to justify cops walking beats. This article doesn’t address the greater effectiveness of bike beats versus foot beat.
Although Adachi’s videos in 2011 led to only one direct firing, SFPD’s reaction to the videos was to completely trim citywide plainclothes units of Narcotics and the Gang Task Force to skeleton staffs, while completely wiping out undercover operations at district stations. Over 100 potential Clark Kents surfacing to rescue citizens or startle criminals were replaced with police scarecrows fixed to 100-square-foot crime hotspots.
Immediate consequences to the phase-out of SFPD plainclothes were twofold. First, before someone commits a crime they generally swivel around looking for law enforcement. When plainclothes officers are working, potential criminals have to peer into every civilian car to rule out whether undercover officers will jump out. Undercovers not only are a hindrance to the criminals’ trade, but they keep perp’s guessing. It didn’t take long for the street to realize SFPD had retreated from proactive police work and undercover operations — as the chart shows, from 2011 on criminals were able to relax their own counter-surveillance.
Second, the internal hierarchy of respect for the art of police work was expelled. For close to a century, if an SFPD officer did well in patrol, they were moved to a district station plainclothes position. If they did well as an undercover within their district, they graduated to a citywide specialized undercover unit. This meritocracy of talent served as a carrot for uniform patrol officers to be proactive and stop crimes before they happened.
SFPD Circa 2012: A boss (me being intentionally vague again) at Mission Station informed me that Noe Valley residents were complaining about how many packages Andy was stealing off doorsteps. I suggested we use the “narcotics-buying tactic,” such that when Andy was seen on his bicycle, we put marked city currency into a package, have FedEx set the package on a stairway, and then have a second police officer arrest Andy after the officer recovered the marked city money in Andy’s pockets.
The boss’ response was for me to remain conspicuously in uniform.
Two weeks later on November 27, 2012 in a story that made news worldwide, Sonya — exasperated with the epidemic of package thefts — went vigilante. A stone’s throw from Mark Zuckerberg’s house, Sonya waited for Andy to steal her FedEx delivery, then doused him with bear spray.
In 2015, with auto break-ins surging, SFPD created an 18-person, citywide Patrol Bureau Task Force (PBTF) and some stations started fielding undercover teams. In 2016 larcenies dropped 9.5% and robberies declined by 12%. The street took note: The Clark Kents were back.
SFPD Circa June 2016 Central Station (North Beach) plainclothes officers were on an undercover operation looking for auto break-in burglars when a crew of men robbed three female tourists. On a steep street no foot beat officer had ever travailed, one officer sprinted straight up the hill, while the rest of his Clark Kent team converged on the robbers (see video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yszXyaLoUc). A by-product robbery arrest resulted from this undercover auto break-in operation!
Larcenies and robberies declined in 2016. For the first eight months of 2017, Police Chief Will Scott claimed auto break-ins increased. (For the majority of this period, auto break-ins weren’t disclosed on the SFPD website: SanFranciscoPolice.org.) In September 2017, despite PBTF’s 228 auto burglary arrests in just 23 months, Chief Scott disbanded the PBTF team, moving them with narcotics officers to foot beats.
For the first 12-months of Scott’s new foot beat experiment, the SFPD website documented larcenies increased 10.5%, from 37,445 to 41,368. To spin the disastrous results, on December 5, 2018 SFPD touted a reduction in property crimes in a San Francisco Chronicle article:
“The report by UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy found that daily incidents in San Francisco of larceny theft — which include vehicle break-ins — dropped nearly 17 percent, and assaults dropped 19 percent in the months after Chief Bill Scott reassigned 69 officers to foot patrols on Sept. 1, 2017.”
There are five major problems with the Goldman School study:
First, the dinky four-month sampling is too small of a timeframe to extrapolate any trends.
Second, a two-month base of larcenies in the prime summer tourist season should not be compared to two months of the less-touristy fall.
Third, concurrent with the elimination of undercovers, then-Mayor Lee simultaneously rerouted car victims’ larceny calls from SFPD dispatch lines to the 311-call center, where to this day victims are still instructed to file their reports online. The mayor’s message was, “Your loss is so common, we don’t care,” which surely discouraged victims from reporting crimes, resulting in understated post-September 1, 2017 larceny stats.
Fourth, while the Goldman School study claimed a 17% decline in larcenies for the period, SFPD’s website reported a 10.6% increase in larcenies — a 27-percentage point disparity:
During this two-month period of foot beat patrols, SFPD’s website reported burglaries, auto break-ins, and robberies increased 22%, 13.6%, and 4% respectively. In spite of these surging crime rates and larcenies increasing 10.6% from 6,660 to 7,368, the Goldman School somehow calculated 7,368 was a 17% smaller number than 6,660. Is this some sort of Berkeley “new math”? How did Chief Scott not understand larcenies increased under foot beats?
Fifth, page nine of the Goldman School study disclosed that they visited ten SFPD district stations and determined 16,248 larcenies cases occurred during the four-month period. Yet when SFPD headquarters accumulated the total larcenies for this period, SFPD HQ reported only 14,028 larcenies. Somehow, 13.6% — 2,220 — of the larcenies calculated by the district stations vanished between the stations’ books and SFPD headquarters’ consolidation of the stats.
Retired SFPD December 16, 2018: In the Central District, as we were scurrying out of the rain a guy lollygagged up the street before conspicuously settling into a seat on the front staircase — in the rain — as if he was soaking up an Indian summer evening. I noticed an adjacent garage door had never closed, revealing several bicycles hanging from the ceiling. I jogged up the stairs past him, and banged on all three front doors, Fred Flintstone-style. The suspect dawdled off to his next opportunity.
This thwarted burglary occurred on a steep city street surveilled by undercover officers, but which was never visited by foot beats. This is the Prop 47-decriminalization crowd peddling foot beats under the theory it’s better to arrest nobody, than to have arrest rolls deviate one iota from a tacit demographic quota system. While Chief Scott shops for his next Southern California chief’s job, citizens and tourists will have to endure his foot beat experiment, unreliable statistics, and the embarrassment the City has become.
Lou Barberini spent nine years undercover and four years as a bike beat officer with SFPD. He has an MBA in Taxation and currently provides fiduciary retirement planning and investment services through Nich Capital Partners on assets held at Charles Schwab & Co. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The consistent theme in my recent Westside Observer columns has been that the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System (SFERS), its Trustees' Board, and its administrators to the $20+ billion pension fund and the voluntary $3+ billion deferred comp savings plan, have:
Limo Bill" claimed there were no taxis available in Manhattan, so he was "forced" to take a limousine to the airport. Really? No taxis were available in all of Manhattan, but "Limo Bill" was able to flag down a limousine in the middle of the street? Has Coaker not heard of Uber?"
1. Consistently sought the most expensive and opaque products;
2. Allowed politics to influence and compromise their fiduciary responsibilities;
3. Directed the $20+ billion pension to subpar returns during a soaring bull market, which lowered the pension's fully-funded level over 20 percentage points;
4. Remained oblivious to what or where the deferred comp pension assets are invested in; and
5. Prepared financial statements without supporting documentation.
If there was any doubt SFERS' administrators and its Retirement Board are ignorant to the nuances of the pension assets they steward, David Sirota, writing for the U.S. edition of The Guardian, exposed how SFERS was apparently illiterate to the fact that a Blackstone hedge fund investment had siphoned off city employees' pension money to contribute to a 2018 California ballot proposition.1
More concerning than unaccounted-for pension assets is, it appears that both SFERS' top administrators and its Retirement Board seem not to care. An example of the prevailing condescending attitude is a public employee's $150 limousine ride to a New York City airport — where New York airport taxi runs are capped at $66 per trip.
|SFERS' Chief Investment Officer Bill "Limousine" Coaker is the highest-paid San Francisco city employee, while steering the city employees' pension to below average profits.|
Bill "Limousine" Coaker is SFERS' Chief Investment Officer who was hired to enable hedge funds entry into the city employees' pension investments. He is the highest-paid San Francisco city employee, while steering the city employees' pension to below average profits. In his October 2016 reimbursement request, "Limo Bill" claimed there were no taxis available in Manhattan, so he was "forced" to take a limousine to the airport. Really? No taxis were available in all of Manhattan, but "Limo Bill" was able to flag down a limousine in the middle of the street? Has Coaker not heard of Uber? Or, is this just a fabricated cover-up to mask the typical pre-scheduling required for limousine service?
On this particular trip to New York to attend Blackstone hedge fund presentations, "Limo Bill" arrived on the scene late on Monday, October 17, 2016 and took the limo to the airport on Friday around 1:30 p.m. Presumably, Blackstone executives leave work at 1:30 p.m. Then, after spending only Saturday in the Bay Area, "Limo Bill" was back at SFO on Sunday to return to New York, charging the pension $99 fund for extra leg room. "Limo Bill" spent all day Monday meeting again with Blackstone, then flew business class back to San Francisco the next day, in effect having returned to New York for a single calendar day.
San Francisco city employees should question why anyone would check in and out of a hotel twice, spend 11 round-trip hours in the air, fight traffic in his 60+ mile commute to and from his home to the airport, go through TSA twice, just to turnaround and fly out of SFO for a Blackstone visit yet again, a mere 39 hours after landing. A second trip presumably necessitated because everyone from Blackstone immediately disappeared on Friday at 1:30 p.m. after the Blackstone conference concluded. Any pragmatic business owner would have crammed the extra meetings into the first visit or relied on video conferencing. "Limo Bill" commutes to visit Blackstone the way city employees hop on Muni. Only a month earlier, "Limo Bill" had flown Virgin Premium Economy ($2,700!) to spend three days with Blackstone, perhaps oblivious that Blackstone had peeled off city employees' money for political purposes. But then again, "Limo Bill" is spending other people's money — from the city employees' pension fund.
Consider, CIO Coaker is hardly the only SFERS fiduciary to bleed the pension fund for travel costs. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018:
In March 2018, Retirement Board Commissioner Leona Bridges hit SFERS' pension fund for the "Second Annual Delegation to Africa," which included stops in Dakar, Senegal; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Cape Town, South Africa. Two months ago, Ms. Bridges requested the pension fund pay for her travel and attendance at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference in September in Washington, D.C. — a worthy cause — but how was that conference applicable to finance or our city employees' pension fund? Other people's money.
Retirement Board Commissioner Wendy Paskin-Jordan parlayed her SFERS' pension fund travel perks to gain her United Airlines' highest frequent-flyer status: "Premier 1K." In the aforementioned fiscal year, Wendy went to New York twice, attended a seminar in Chicago, and incurred an $8,000 flight to attend a conference in Berlin, Germany. City employees paid a total of $16,000 for that three-day seminar within Ms. Paskin's eight-day vacation to Germany. In October 2018, she tapped the city employees' pension fund again for $16,000 to attend seminars in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia.
Perhaps it's because Paskin-Jordan's private financial advisory business and her ability to deduct the costs of international seminars from her firm's taxes that she is uniquely the only SFERS-related person who always pays for her for own flights, produces tax receipts, and then seeks reimbursement from the city employees' pension fund.
With all the worldly financial knowledge Wendy has gained at the city employees' expense, it is clearly ironic that her firm's registration with the SEC documents that her firm's clients are too good for insurance annuities investments, while she has never once objected to churning through insurance annuities for the 28,000 city employees in SFERS' deferred comp plan. Other people's money.
By no means are these the only SFERS staff and Retirement Board members using the SFERS $20+ billion pension for globetrotting vacations. During the aforementioned 12-month period, while badly underperforming simple stock index funds SFERS indulged on international trips to: London, Helsinki, Florence, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Singapore, China, Okinawa, Japan, Taiwan, Paris, and San Paulo. And, because SFERS and the Retirement Board is spending other people's money, they deem themselves above the city departments' and mayor's requirement of flying coach.
And, it's not just the glamorous nature of places SFERS deems they must visit; it's the vanity seminars they attend.
For instance, in July 2017, SFERS' board president attended a three-day seminar at Harvard University designed for "board members of large publically-held companies." The city employees' pension fund, which is obviously not a public company, paid a whopping $9,250 tuition for the president's three days to schmooze at Harvard.
After attending the Harvard seminar, at the May 2018 Retirement Board meeting the president mocked this column's use of the words "virtual" and "synthetic" to describe the unaccounted for deferred comp savings plan. If I may paraphrase Matt Damon's Good Will Hunting take on Harvard: "This is certain! Fifty years from now, you will wake up and realize you wasted $9,000 of your co-workers' money on a three-day seminar you coulda got for $1.50 in computer charges at the public library." Had the board president simply searched Google for Investopedia, the online financial encyclopedia, he would have learned that annuity components are described as "virtual, (if not exact) clones of their counterparts." Surely, the board president's fellow SFPD officers would have benefited more from him researching insurance annuities at the library or on-line, rather than taking an inapplicable $9,250 course at Harvard. Other people's money.
This is clearly transactional. SFERS' administrators and the Retirement Board enable both of SFERS' two funds to accommodate the political winds, while being handsomely repaid, fêted with ostentatious travel to exotic places. It isn't just the air miles, seminar tuitions, hotels, and limousines; it's SFERS' and the Retirement Board's lower-tier pension performance peddled to city employees' and taxpayers as stellar investment performances. During the 2017/2018 fiscal year, despite my deferred comp performance beating the pension fund by 3.9 percentage points — a 34% greater return than the pension fund "Limo Bill" oversees — the city paid "Limo Bill" a $223,000 bonus for his underperformance (or his enabling), for a total income of $550,000! This is certain: If "Limo Bill" replaced his jet set lifestyle with $1.50 in computer charges at the public library, taxpayers and city employees would be a hell of a lot wealthier.
Lou Barberini's family lives in the West Portal area. He has an MBA in Taxation and currently provides fiduciary retirement planning and investment services through Nich Capital Partners on assets held at Charles Schwab & Co. He can be reached at .