San Francisco

Despite Being Miffed by Kaepernick Protest, Santa Clara Police Union Encourages Officers to Work at 49ers Home Games

The Santa Clara police union on Thursday urged its officers to work during San Francisco 49ers' home games, less than a week after threatening not to in response to Colin Kaepernick's ongoing protest and remarks about racial injustice and police brutality.

The union was upset over Kaepernick's statements about police officers and the fact he wore socks at a practice showing pigs in police uniforms. About 70 officers typically volunteer to work overtime at 49er games. Last Friday the police union said they might stop.

In a statement issued by the Santa Clara Police Officers Association, union leaders seemed mollified by Mayor Lisa Gillmor, who chimed in on the controversy on Wednesday, saying "complex issues" had gotten "misinterpreted" and "lost in translation." 

"This issue, that Mr. Kaepernick talked about is a huge issue in our country, a huge issue. it's not about whether he sits down, or he sits out, It's bigger than that," Gillmore said.

Union leaders credited Gillmor for straightening out a "major misconception that we are required to work at 49ers games."

It continued: "This is work we do voluntarily that frequently requires personal and family sacrifices from our officers." 

The Santa Clara Police Chief Michael Sellers said he's pleased with Gillmor's efforts. Sellers told NBC Bay Area that the games were always going to be fully staffed, even if he had to reach out to other Bay Area police departments.

The Santa Clara Police Department is the lead police agency at Levi’s Stadium. During 49ers games, around 70 officers volunteer to work and are paid as security personnel. It remains to be seen whether officers heed the union's call to action and work at the team's next game on Sept. 12.

Meanwhile, the statement criticized other Santa Clara leaders for remaining largely silent on the issue, particularly because the officers "personal and professional integrity has been questioned."

Union leaders are accusing Santa Clara Police Chief Michael Sellers of being "more concerned about appearing to do something rather than actually educating the public about the facts."

Sellers had previously called for his officers to put the community's safety above potential boycotts. He added that he respects Kaepernick's right to voice an opinion and encouraged his officers to protect those constitutional rights for every citizen, even if they disagree.

Union leaders also rebuked the San Francisco 49ers organization's lack of response to their concerns.

"If they can defend the free speech right of one of their players, certainly they can acknowledge the unfortunate harm that may be inflicted upon the good men and women of our department at 49er games and other stadium events," the statement said. 

NBC Bay Area obtained a letter Friday, penned by union members, to the San Francisco 49ers stating that if the organization does not take action against Kaepernick, "it could result in police officers choosing not to work at your facilities." 

According to the union, about one-third of the officers who work during 49ers games are from other Bay Area law enforcement departments. If Santa Clara's police officers refuse to work, others officers might be hired. But that may create a conflict with the city’s contract with the police union.

Officers are angered by Kaepernick's comments about police brutality and accusations that officers "murder minorities." They are also frustrated by the San Francisco quarterback's decision to wear socks during practice that depict pigs in police uniforms, according to the association.

On Thursday, 49ers CEO Jed York announced the team was pledging $1 million to a pair of Bay Area foundations for "improving racial and economic inequality."

Prior to Thursday's announcement, the 49ers organization had said little other than that it stands behind its previous statements and respects Kaepernick's right to freedom of expression.

In a statement made immediately following reports of Kaepernick's decision to sit down during the playing of the national anthem before San Francisco's preseason game against Green Bay on Aug. 26, the franchise said, "In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."

Kaepernick’s decision not to stand has triggered a firestorm of comments on social media, in the Bay Area and across the nation. Local police agencies invited Kaepernick over to see their work in action, while many of the quarterback’s colleagues in the NFL said they disagree with his decision not to stand — though some said they support him.

Some American military veterans, many of them black, came to his defense online, using the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick to indicate that they supported his right to express himself. And Kaepernick pledged to donate $1 million to as-yet unnamed community organizations.

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