UPDATE: SFPD Flip Flops on Condom as Evidence Policy-AGAIN

Condoms as Evidence?

In October of 2012 we posted how the SFPD, responding to pressure from AIDS activist groups like ACT UP/SF, Human Rights Commission and a coalition of AIDS Service Organizations (ASO), were starting a trial run abandoning the practice of using condoms found on someone’s person as evidence of purported prostitution.

The ninety day, pilot program, set up between The City, the DA and police was hailed by all concerned as a great step in the right direction. Essentially any person found with three or more condoms in their bag or pocket under the old SFPD rules could be held for up to 72 hours under the ‘suspicion’ of being a sex worker.

Studies through out the US has shown this search and detain mentality  encourages people to give up safe sex practices in order to avoid hassles by the police putting more people at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

This debate is also winding it’s way through New York State legislature where New York State Bill A1008/S323 is awaiting approval from the rules committee before it’s presented to the legislature for debate and ultimately voted on. New York City Council passed a referendum over the summer supporting the Bill and the State wide change it would allow.

SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As was first reported by the B.A.R. on Jan. 8 the San Francisco Police Department chief, Greg Suhr, the highest paid policeman in the country according to a HuffPo report, said SFPD will no longer take photographs of condoms or mention them in police reports in prostitution cases, ending the City’s practice of using condoms as evidence in such cases. A bulletin will be released by the end of this week to all Captains and department members.

The initial ninety day pilot program was declared a resounding success. Hurrahs were heard through out the City in organizations who serve the impacted communities and it seemed that for once City officials, AIDS activists and the SFPD could work in conjunction with each other to make real changes in policy that serve the interests of all involved.

Friday, Jan. 11, the celebration came to an abrupt halt when the SFPD reversed it’s decision and announced they would continue the ‘pilot program’ for and additional ninety days. Officials are not offering a clear explanation.

Condoms as Evidence mock up provided by St. James Infirmary

Condoms as Evidence mock up provided by St. James Infirmary

Rather than saying once and for all that condoms won’t be collected, photographed, or mentioned in police reports in such cases, as the agency had planned to do, Chief Greg Suhr has issued a department-wide bulletin that says the ban could be just temporary.

SFPD spokes people have laid the hold up on the shoulders of the DA and Public Defenders office saying they’d requested a stay in policy change to review how it would effect ongoing cases.

As the next ninety days tic by the holding pattern continues here in the City while the powers that be wrestle with the idea of changing policy and tenor around this issue.

More changes could be coming in California around this issue. Gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) recently indicated he’s interested in addressing the issue statewide and seeing the practice permanently removed in every city and town in California.

Waiyde Palmer

Waiyde Palmer loves San Francisco, social activism and punk rock(ers). His work has appeared in Handbook Magazine. SF Bay Times, The Advocate, Diseased Pariah News and American Music Press . He also has an extensive and repeatedly redacted FBI file.

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3 Responses

  1. A Moose says:

    wow. I wasn’t even aware of this.

    I’ve taken advantage of the containers at the various watering holes in the Castro and “stocked up” cause I’m well on vacation and didn’t wish to deal.

    Does that include too if I bought a box at Walgreens?

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    • Waiyde says:

      I believe the SFPD uses a series of criteria to determine was is suspiciously behaving like a street sex worker before swooping in to search you or your belongings.

      It is, I believe, extremely counter-productive when we exhort the practices of safer sex as a virtue and then punish those who work in the trade who do their best trying to avoid getting infected.

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  2. marcos says:

    This is yet another example of how power meters reforms by the dribble in a way that exacts a tremendous popular cost. People organize for years on this issue, possibly a contender for the narrowest of issues with the smallest constituency that has little broader appeal, the government hems and haws which exacts even more organizing resources. At this rate, two years of work will have been exhausted to achieve this sliver of policy gain.

    Obviously the cause on the merits is a no-brainer. But at the rate we’re being played in this war of attrition, we’re far from a sustainable path.

    The kind of reforms we need are to finish the job we started ten years ago with Prop H, where we convert the SFPD from an occupying army of suburbanites which institutionally holds the east side of SF in contempt, into a public safety organization that is democratically accountable to the communities in which it operates, where the community priorities are cop priorities and the chief is only the highest paid cop in the US when the most dangerous corner SF is the safest place in the country

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