Report: San Francisco police moving too slowly on reform
The department has implemented fewer than 15% of reforms it promised to adopt four years ago, though UOF incidents are down 47% since 2016
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Police Department is compliant with fewer than 15% of the reforms it pledged to adopt nearly four years ago, progress that’s moving too slowly and delaying its promise to the community to transform policing in the city, officials with the state Department of Justice wrote in a report released Wednesday.
The Police Department, however, has made major progress in decreasing use-of-force incidents since beginning the collaborative reform initiative in 2016. The effort, which emphasizes community policing, came after a string of controversial police killings, including the 2015 shooting of Mario Woods in the city’s Bayview.
Use-of-force incidents dropped by 24% in 2019, contributing to a 47% decline since 2016, according to the report. But officers continued to use force disproportionately against black and Latino people, with 39% of total incidents involving black men and 22% Latino men in the last quarter of 2019, the report found. Less than 5% of the city’s population is African American, though use-of-force incidents are not always against city residents.
“We want to quicken the pace of our reform efforts,” Chief Bill Scott told The Chronicle. “For some people that’s all that matters, but changes are happening. We see it. We feel it. We know things are getting better.”
The department is compliant with 40 of the 272 reform recommendations and has submitted 61 other recommendations that evaluators said need more progress. A major focus has been on revamping its policy on force, including prioritizing de-escalation tactics, and training officers in crisis intervention strategies. There has been one officer-involved shooting since June 2018. That happened when Jamaica Hampton allegedly attacked officers with a bottle in the Mission District in December.
The department has decreased stops of African Americans by 29% and Latinos by 20% in the past year, police officials said, while expanding its community policing program.
Many of the recommendations at which the department is failing involve internal reviews. The department was not found to be compliant in auditing arrest and use-of-force data, developing a strategy and training officers in addressing bias policing, and more than 200 other reforms.
The state Department of Justice said the policy reforms “go above and beyond traditional policing standards” but it is “concerned that SFPD’s progress is too slow.”
“The failure to implement a greater number of the recommendations is delaying the SFPD’s fulfillment of its promise to the community to get this work done,” officials wrote.
Scott called the report “a fair assessment,” adding that he was disappointed in his department’s pace on meeting the reform goals.
“I know how hard we’re working,” he said. “We asked (the state Department of Justice) to work with us to be an independent evaluator and whatever comes with that. Sometimes that’s good news, and sometimes that’s news you don’t want to hear.”
While the slow-going reform process may raise questions about the chief’s performance, he has publicly had the support of the Police Commission and mayor, to whom he reports. The rank-and-file officers in the police union who have resisted many of the reforms have openly clashed with Scott.
Wednesday’s report analyzed the second phase of the Police Department’s reform initiative that began when then-Police Chief Greg Suhr asked the Obama administration’s Justice Department to review the department in April 2016. Suhr was facing pressure over the shooting of Woods and others and resigned after police fatally shot Jessica Williams in May 2016 as she tried to flee officers in her car.
The department has banned shooting at vehicles in most cases as part of its reforms.
Then-Mayor Ed Lee tapped Scott from the Los Angeles Police Department to replace Suhr. Scott was an assistant chief and had spent 13 years working on reforming the LAPD as part of the city’s consent decree.
The San Francisco Police Department was among 14 law enforcement agencies around the country in the midst of reform under the U.S. Department of Justice when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions canceled the office’s community policing program in September 2017.
“Now, more than ever, we must step up our collaborative efforts to take on this challenge and meet the high standard expected of those who are sworn to protect and serve our communities,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said.