The Prop E measure that SF voters approved in March is coming home to roost, as the SF Police Commission is about to consider new rules that expand the types of cases where SFPD officers can engage in car chases.

San Francisco voters approved the Prop E measure this past March that allowed more power and surveillance tools to the disposal of the San Francisco Police Department. The changes haven’t really gone into effect yet, as there is some nuts-and-bolts policymaking to explicitly define the new rules. That begins Wednesday night, as the Chronicle reports the San Francisco Police Commission will consider expanding the criteria for police car chases at tonight’s meeting, and also reduce paperwork requirements in situations where officers have bodycam footage.  

The car chase policy is obviously the more controversial component of these proposed revisions. Currently, SFPD officers can pursue a suspect in a car chase only if the individual is suspected of having committed a violent felony. Under the new rules, police can also chase people they suspect of nonviolent felonies like drug dealing or retail theft, or violent misdemeanors like assault or battery.

Police would also be empowered to initiate a car chase if they think a suspect is about to commit a felony or violent misdemeanor.

“The voters approved Prop E and now we are doing the work to put policy into practice,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement to the Chronicle. “By freeing up officers to spend more time out in the community and giving them the tools to be more efficient and hold people accountable, we will make San Francisco safer.”

But there have been a number of incidents involving law enforcement chases that created danger, injury, or even death for innocent bystanders in the last year-plus.

Notably, in May 2023 a suspect in a freshly carjacked truck being pursued by police crashed into another vehicle and a bus stop at 16th and Potrero streets, injuring three and killing one. Last October, a fleeing suspect threw Molotov cocktails at police cars chasing him after having allegedly assaulted a parishioner at North Beach’s Saints Peter and Paul Church. Then in late December, a fleeing suspect being pursued struck a pedestrian and another car, causing multiple injuries.

That trouble was mostly caused by the suspects, not the police. But we do have to mention the police chase last May where an SFPD vehicle crashed into the former Lucca Ravioli storefront on Valencia Street, and injured two people. The suspect got away.  

There was also the March 2024 case of El Cerrito cops chasing some retail thieves who were headed to the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Those suspects allegedly flipped a U-turn to escape pursuit and drove the wrong way into the MacArthur Maze, colliding head on with a commuter who was killed.

A Chronicle investigation in February found more than 550 innocent bystanders have been killed by police chases nationwide over the last six years.

“Whether you were a supporter of Prop E or not, everyone will agree that vehicle pursuits are a dangerous tactic for officers, for suspects and for bystanders,” police commissioner Kevin Benedicto, who opposed Prop E, told the Chronicle.

SFPD Chief Bill Scott says the bodycam policy changes are more significant. Under the proposed new guidelines, police would not have to complete written reports in cases where they have bodycam footage of an incident. And in use-of-force cases, only one officer would be required to complete paperwork if the other officers on the scene had bodycam footage.

“We can do things more efficiently,” SFPD Chief Bill Scott told the Chronicle. “With staffing shortages the way they are, the more we can do to cut down on administrative work, I think will help us. And I think the public is demanding that.”

If the Police Commission approves these changes, they will go to the SF Police Officers Association union for review, and then back to the commission for final approval. The changes would be enacted this fall, if approved in all cases.

Wednesday night’s SF Police Commission meeting to consider these changes is at 5:30 pm at Room 400 of City Hall, and will be broadcast live on SFGovTV.

Related: Fleeing Suspect, Police Chase Tuesday Evening Causes Multiple Injuries In SF [SFist]

Image: San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) vehicle in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco, California, December 5, 2019. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)