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New SFPD bureau to focus on community-oriented policing

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Police Chief Suhr and Mayor Ed Lee announce comprehensive police reforms to improve public safety at a news conference in San Francisco City Hall on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. (Yesica Prado/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

A new San Francisco police bureau has been created to focus on community-oriented policing as part of a greater effort to restore trust in the Police Department, city officials said Monday.

The Bureau of Professional Standards and Principled Policing will be led by Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin, who Suhr recently promoted from commander of investigations.

The bureau will implement the upcoming recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice’s office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which launched a review of San Francisco police earlier this month.

“This will be new territory for an old and proud department,” Chaplin said during a news conference at City Hall on Monday.

The creation of the new bureau is part of what Mayor Ed Lee dubbed at the same news conference a “comprehensive package of police reforms,” which amount to a cultural shift in the way San Francisco police use force.

The reforms, which were made following the killing of Mario Woods last December, include changes to Police Department policies, procedures and training. The fatal police shooting has prompted outrage and raised questions about whether police in The City use excessive force.

“We need to figure out a way to re-engineer force,” Suhr said at the news conference. “The main goal in everything that we’ve been talking about is the sanctity of life, and the sanctity of life for everybody — that everybody walks away whenever that can be possible.”

The Police Officers Association, however, contended that some of the police reforms could be dangerous to officers and that it had been left out of the conversation on policy changes.

“These are the biggest changes proposed to police policy in over 35 years and – although some of the policies may be good ones – some of the policies may expose our members to harm,” union head Martin Halloran said in a statement. “We are not going to let that happen.”

Per the new policies, any incident in which an officer points their gun at a suspect is a reportable use of force, and a police supervisor now responds to any call involving a weapon, Suhr said.

Other changes include equipping officers with a greater amount of less-lethal bean bags, as well as helmets and batons to help subdue knife-wielding suspects. Police will also receive eight hours on firearms training, instead of two, and Crisis Intervention Training has been expanded, Suhr said.

Upcoming changes also include equipping police with stun guns — a contentious feat that has been opposed at the police commission for years.

Lee said money will be allocated in the upcoming budget to pay for the changes, though a total cost hast not been determined.

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