How a San Francisco union brought shame to the city’s police department

How a San Francisco union brought shame to the city’s police department

Emilie Daedler | California Policy Center

If you hope to reform policing in America, you have to reform the unions that invariably protect bad cops. That’s how Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, though trailing at least 17 excessive-force complaints, ended up on duty on May 25, the day George Floyd died.

And that’s how San Francisco’s police union was operating five years ago, when the public first learned that 10 city police officers routinely sent one another texts that shamed the department, cost the city millions, and made it possible that criminal convictions might be overturned because of perceived police bias.  

The drama began in 2012, when San Francisco PD initiated a corruption investigation into officer Sgt. Ian Furminger on federal fraud and conspiracy charges. During that inquiry, investigators stumbled across racist and derogatory texts among members of their own force. Then? Nothing happened. The texts remained buried for years, with the department refraining from disciplinary measures. KQED reports, “The SFPD did not pursue discipline until early 2015, a few months before a federal court filing in the Furminger case made a sampling of the offensive texts public.” 

By then, a judge ruled, the two-year statute of limitations had run out. A San Francisco city attorney appealed, and the case made its way to the California Supreme Court. The San Francisco Police Officers Association defended its members through every appeal, attempting at one point to force the city to pay for the officers’ legal fees. 

Throughout the appeals process, the police who faced these charges remained on the payroll, accumulating over $2 million in pay — another benefit of the union’s power to shape employment practices. 

The California Supreme Court ultimately found the 10 guilty and supported their termination — though several had by then resigned. 

The man at the head of that union effort, Police Sergeant Tony Montoya, still runs the San Francisco Police Officers Association. His annual salary, $214,525  is paid for by taxpayers even though he works full time as union president — yet another benefit of the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city of San Francisco.

Emilie Daedler is a Summer 2020 journalism fellow at California Policy Center, and a senior at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!