Simi, Larry: Consent Decree
Larry Simi: In the mid 70’s, the San Francisco Police Department had a sprinkling of African-American, Asian officers, a few Latinos. But there were a whole bunch of pieces in the selection process that made it inherently difficult to join either the police or the fire department because the written tests were exactly the same. First and foremost, relative to Asians, there was a height requirement to get into the police and fire department. You had to be 5’7” or more, and a lot of Asians weren’t 5’7”. Well what does 5’7” have to do with being a good cop or not, I don’t know. There were also written tests that were basically general information exams. They were like an SAT test or something. They had very little to do with the specifics of being a cop or a fire fighter. In fact one of the questions was a civics question. “How many members were on the Board of Supervisors?” They were questions like that. If you had studied hard in history, civics, and math in school you would have done well, but there was not much about identification for example, or investigative type stuff. There just wasn’t very much that was relative to being a cop or a fire fighter. So what that effectively did was kind of kept the club pretty select and pretty white. There were lawsuits around that, and lawsuits around the suitability of the test and the job-relatedness to the test. Eventually in federal court a group by the name of Public Advocates, Bob Gnaizda – there was another lawyer whose name I don’t remember but Gnaizda is the one that I do remember – essentially drove with Moscone a Consent Decree that essentially require San Francisco to change the way they selected police officers and fire fighters, change the testing process, make it more relevant to doing the job. It opened it up not only to minorities, but women. It was quite a significant thing. That Consent Decree was something that city attorney and the mayor presented to the Board of Supervisors and it require a vote of the Board of Supervisors to be ratified and for the city to consent to it along with the plaintiff, Public Advocates. I think the formal complaints were the Officers for Justice and minority police and fire organizations. So essentially there was a very close split on the Board of Supervisors at that time. There was a Kopp/Barbagelata group that was very, very conservative. And there was the kind of Gordon Lau/Jack Molinari group that was on the other side that was very supportive of the Mayor. Then there was a group in-between every vote especially after District Elections. Every vote became very close and very tenacious in terms of the fights that went on. And at that point, the Police Officers Association was very worried about that balance of power because it felt that they had their sixth vote with Dan White. So when Dan decided to leave – he probably hadn’t thought about that but – in the ten days between when he walked in on a Friday afternoon to talk to Mayor Moscone I remember him walking into the office, and I actually walked out of the building with him that evening, and he told me “It’s just too much. I can’t support my family.” The ten days later, he was under tremendous pressure by the Police Officers Association. He asked to be reappointed. The City Attorney had said “no” once he resigned, but that Moscone could reappoint him, but I think Moscone essentially decided he hadn’t been an effective supervisor, wasn’t a stable vote, and it was an opportunity to move the city in the direction he wanted to take it.
The Moscone oral history interviews are part of the George Moscone Collection, MSS 328.
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Rubin, Jon and Simi, Larry, "Simi, Larry: Consent Decree" (2011). Moscone Oral Histories. 175.