Mayor: San Francisco police won't respond to non-criminal calls as part of reforms

Officers would be replaced by trained, unarmed professionals to limit unnecessary confrontation on calls that don't involve a threat to public safety


Olga R. Rodriguez
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco officers will stop responding to non-criminal activities such as disputes between neighbors, reports about homeless people and school discipline interventions as part of a police reform plan the mayor announced Thursday.

Mayor London Breed said in a news release that on calls that don't involve a threat to public safety, officers would be replaced by trained, unarmed professionals to limit unnecessary confrontation between the police department and the community.

In this photo taken June 1, 2020, San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks to a group protesting police racism outside City Hall in San Francisco. Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
In this photo taken June 1, 2020, San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks to a group protesting police racism outside City Hall in San Francisco. Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

“We know that a lack of equity in our society overall leads to a lot of the problems that police are being asked to solve," she said in the release. "We are going to keep going with these additional reforms and continuing to find ways to reinvest in communities that have historically been underserved and harmed by systemic racism.”

As part of the new police reforms, the city will also strengthen its accountability policies, ban the use of military-grade weapons and divert funding to the African American community, which comprises less than 6% of San Francisco's population but nearly 50% of those involved in the criminal justice system, Breed said.

It could not be immediately determined how much time and resources the San Francisco Police Department spends responding to non-criminal calls. But a 2016 report from the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that the city incurred nearly $21 million in 2015 to enforce quality of life laws against homeless residents. Police accounted for more than 90% of the costs and responded to more than 60,000 incidents from January to November 2015.

The proposal follows weeks of demonstrations nationwide demanding police reform and an end to racism after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes.

“For too long, black people have been subjected to violence at the hands of people in power," Breed said during a panel Thursday on racial justice broadcast online. "Now is the time when we can make sure that these demonstrations that we see are translated into real action.”

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott, who joined Breed on the panel with civil rights activist and television commentator Van Jones and Board of Equalization chairwoman Malia Cohen, said the police department was also working to change its policy on releasing booking photos.

He said a new policy within a couple of weeks would “reel back" the release of booking photos, a decision he reached after talking to experts about how such photos influence biases of officers and the public.

“The point is rethinking policies and what the things that we are doing add to that association of who is a criminal, who is not, who is dangerous,” Scott said.

He said the photographs help promote stereotypes, which he's also been the subject of.

“As a black man, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked by a car and heard the door's lock click,” Scott said.

Jones said he started pushing for police reform while living in San Francisco in the 1990s, when Aaron Williams, a black man, who died after being restrained by police.

After mounting pressure and an internal investigation into Williams' death, the department charged officer Marc Andaya with using excessive force by repeatedly kicking Williams in the head without justification, the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time. He was acquitted in court and later fired for not disclosing complaints of misconduct in his previous job as an Oakland Police officer.

Jones said creating a model in San Francisco that reinvents policing could set an example for cities nationwide. The city said it will develop its plan over the next year, following models like the Cahoots program in the western Oregon city of Eugene. That community-based crisis program employs social workers and mental health workers to respond to disturbances where crimes are not being committed.

“It is a trip to be sitting here 25 years later and seeing young people like you guys, including the chief, doing the things that we had dreamed about, prayed about and fought for 25 years ago," he said.

NEXT: The problems with defunding the police

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