Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer
Copyright 2005 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
All Rights Reserved
THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE (California)
For the past seven years, every time he finished a video for the San Francisco Police Department, Officer Andrew "Drew" Cohen would dutifully call reporters and plead for some positive coverage.
Now, the 10-year veteran, who has spent years trying to "humanize" street cops in videos the Police Department embraced, finds himself surrounded by reporters, but for entirely different reasons.
Cohen, 39, is at the center of a growing scandal over a series of videos he produced -- vignettes that Chief Heather Fong and Mayor Gavin Newsom said "range from immature to vulgar to sexist, racist and homophobic."
"There is a horrible irony," said Cohen, who was suspended without pay Tuesday and ordered to remove the videos from his Web site. "This is actually what I'm not all about. This whole thing contradicts everything that I have done for years."
'Out of control'
"This thing has spun way out of control," he said Thursday. "This was meant to be a good-natured, inside joke. Now it's being used to falsely portray police as racist, sexist pigs and smear the names of a lot of good officers. That's something I'm really sorry about."
Cohen started his career as a beat cop in the Tenderloin Task Force, where he became part of a bicycle unit that swooped down on drug dealers. He also became heavily involved in community policing events, including organizing Juneteenth celebration in the Tenderloin.
Until now, he has been known for producing videos of an entirely different sort. He has created several public service announcements, internal training films and a driving safety video geared toward high school students.
Cohen's first video included a tribute to Officer Kenny Sugrue, a mentor of his who died of a heart attack in 1998. In the video, Cohen intersperses footage of Sugrue walking his beat past drug dealers and hookers with shots of him trimming his award-winning roses.
But Cohen is perhaps best known for the seven documentaries he and Officer Bob Mammone produced to highlight the stress officers endure on the job. The series, called "Hearts of the City," has won numerous awards and aired on KRON-TV and several local public stations. The final segment included an emotional tribute to Officer Isaac Espinoza, who was killed in the Bayview district in April 2004.
"I've spent years trying to show that we're not robots, that cops are real people who do a tough job and do it because they care about people," Cohen said.
Cohen, a single father of two school-age girls who lives in the home where he was raised, considers policing as an extension of social work. He joined the department in 1995 after a variety of other jobs, including a stint as a party DJ and the owner of a Top Dog sausage stand in Oakland.
He is one of the three children of the late Barbara Cohen, a former copy editor and reporter who he says instilled in Cohen not just progressive politics and a commitment to public service but also an irreverent sense of humor.
"I'm a liberal Berkeley Jew with two biracial children, who was raised by a very strong liberal woman," he said. "I'm not going to be the victim of someone else's weird notion of political correctness."
Cohen also has produced four CDs under his musical moniker MC Powder. Most of the songs are positive and humorous, if PG-rated, hip-hop tunes about policing that make light of criminals. But a few -- such as "Fajitagate" and "OCC" -- poke fun at the department's top brass, former District Attorney Terence Hallinan, the Office of Citizen Complaints and The Chronicle.
Honored for his work
Over the years, Cohen has been honored for his work by the California Assembly, the state Senate, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and many private groups. Mayor Willie Brown also proclaimed Oct. 14, 1998, as "Officer Andrew Cohen Day" to honor his community outreach work.
At the time the scandal about his holiday video broke, Cohen, working mostly on his own time, had just completed a documentary about police work in the Bayview district, which has the highest homicide rate in San Francisco. It includes interviews with black officers, community leaders and crime victims. Many of the critics of the spoof video are African Americans, who feel it is an example of police disrespect.
"The notion I'm racist is ridiculous," Cohen said. "I've worked my entire career to foster a better understanding between police and the communities. I've been the biggest advocate for opening the door between the community and the Police Department."
December 9, 2005
Respected officer has been making videos for the SFPD for years