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Preliminary findings of police bias probe find SFPD lacks discipline, oversight

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Police Chief Greg Suhr, right, appear before District Attorney George Gascon’s Blue Ribbon Panel on law enforcement in February 2016. Both see the department differently. (Yesica Prado/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The San Francisco Police Department is opaque in its discipline, arbitrary in its hiring and biased in its policing of communities of color.

Such were the blistering preliminary findings of a year-long inquiry into The City’s troubled police department that was launched by District Attorney George Gascon and released to the San Francisco Examiner Monday.

The findings come as activist allies of five hunger strikers known as the “Frisco 5,” who ended their 17-day fast last weekend, continue to pressure Mayor Ed Lee to fire Chief Greg Suhr.

The initial findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement note that there are a number of serious issues in the department related to everything from discipline, hiring and oversight to lack of transparency and biased policing of minority communities.

Perhaps the most damning findings were that the department engages in controversial “stop and frisk” practices and that no internal review of systematic bias was conducted following the release of racist texts sent by officers in 2015.

“A common theme from the working groups is that the SFPD is not transparent and lacks accountability because there is no auditing of its functions in any meaningful way, including with regard to hiring; background investigations; training, use-of-force and officer-involved shooting investigations; and internal affairs,” the panel’s executive director, Anand Subramanian, wrote in an email to the San Francisco Examiner.

Launched in May 2015, just a month after revelations surfaced of a handful of police officers sending racist and bigoted text messages, the three-judge panel has faced financial and political opposition from the start.

The most vocal opposition to the panel has been the Police Officer’s Association, which at first questioned its purpose and authority, among other roadblocks. Most recently the union’s two most prominent officers — President Martin Halloran and consultant Gary Delagnes — alleged in a statement to union lawyers that Gascon himself had made racially offensive remarks in front of them when he was chief.

In response to the independent panel’s findings, Halloran accused the District Attorney of manipulating information.

“George Gascon’s Blue Ribbon Report is biased, one-sided, and illegitimate,” Halloran said. “Gascon handpicked his own panel, and refused to hear from any witnesses who disagree with him, and so Gascon’s report should be filed in the fiction section of the library.”

Even the mayor gave little support to the panel after it was launched, saying he did not want to support an action that would pit separate departments against one another. After Lee denied a request for funding, the panel’s executive director’s pay was found through a grant obtained by Gascon’s office.

The controversial panel has heard from Suhr, who denied there is any systematic bias in the ranks, as well as Gascon, who disagreed with Suhr. The body also heard from current and former police officers, as well as others involved in the criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, in light of another racist text message scandal, Suhr announced all members of the San Francisco Police Department will participate in training to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace. He has said no such views are compatible with being a police officer in San Francisco.

For instance, the department announced Friday that an officer overheard by other police allegedly making racist remarks will face discipline up to and including firing.

Findings

The Blue Ribbon Panel is comprised of three distinguished judges: LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, Cruz Reynoso and Dickran Tevrizian. They were chosen for their records in civil rights and their independence. None are being paid.

Seven pro bono law firms took on areas areas of inquiry and will give a public report on the issue Monday night before the judges.

The law firm that looked into stops, searches and arrests found that the department engages in controversial “stop and frisk” practices and there is a disparity when it come to black and Latino citizens. Those communities “overwhelmingly report bias and a lack of community policing.”

But even the data collected on such stops, searches and arrests is incomplete, noted the finding.

When it comes to hiring and promotions, the department is “highly discretionary, leading to high potential for bias and favoritism,” found the law firm looking into this area. The finding also noted that the background investigation process is not transparent enough.

The findings appear to mirror allegations that surfaced last year in which Suhr allegedly gave a family friend special treatment while in training, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported.

Use of force practices and policing, which are undergoing major mandated changes, which include a federal review, following the Dec. 2, 2015, killing of Mario Woods, were found to be in dire need of updating. What’s more, the department’s internal data collection on use of force incidents is done in a way that discourages auditing and review from outside parties.

The law firm that looked into internal discipline had little good to say. It found “there is no transparency in the disciplinary process.” What’s more, it found the disciplinary guidelines are outdated and there is little tracking of the outcome of discipline.

Police disciplinary hearings are by law barred from public scrutiny as are the names of the officers involved, so it’s hard to say to what degree the department is prevented from changing these practices without new legislation mandating it from Sacramento.

Still, the panel found the department could be more transparent when it comes to discipline even with state laws.

The department appears to have little to no external oversight, found the law firm looking into that matter.

For instance, the panel’s initial findings said there is no entity regularly auditing the department. And investigations into police misconduct allegations by the department’s watchdog, the Office of Citizen Complaints, “rarely result in disciplinary consequences, and when they do, the discipline imposed is almost always mild.”

No department-led inquiry into systemic bias was launched after the 2015 racist text message misconduct case, which was the impetus for the panel, found the panel. Suhr has said there was a cursory review of the officers involved to see if there were patterns that could have been spotted. Suhr also recommend that eight of them be fired, but because the department let the year-long statute of limitations run out, a judge recently ruled they cannot be let go.

The law firm that looked into the department’s culture found there is disagreement about whether bias is institutionalised. But the panel did find the political and vocal police union is seen as one and the same with the department, which harms the department’s image.

Finally, the department’s sharing of crime data “is inconsistent and insufficient to track potential bias.”

The panel is set to announce its preliminary hearing at a public forum at 5:30 p.m. Monday at 762 Fulton St. in the Buriel Clay Theater.

The findings are expected to be made final after being reviewed by the three-judge panel, who will then release their reform recommendations.

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  • sffoghorn

    Cue the POA’s paid hacks to defend the racist gang and their violent and lucrative RICO operation.

  • Mark Lewis

    I question the basic competency of the SFPD when they have a large police station at Valencia/17th St and there is so much crime in the Mission/16th St. corridor just two blocks away. You can basically follow a trail of broken glass from smash & grabs to the Mission Station. How many murders on Mission St between 16th and 17th Streets in the last five years? What are the officers at the station doing?

  • R94110

    If 70% of SFPD attention is on non-whites and 80% of crimes are conducted by non-whites, then are SFPD being biased against whites?

  • sffoghorn

    Marking time, one day closer to 90% retirement.

  • R94110

    It covers a large area and they should not be only covering the area within a couple of blocks. What about the rest of us?

  • Mark Lewis

    Well presumably, on their way to your area, they would pass through the high crime area and notice the things that people who live here deal with every day.

  • R94110

    OK, so they should never reach my area because your area is so bad?

  • R94110

    And yet when the local thugs decide to beat on your lily-white gay gentrifying ass, you will go running to them like a baby seeking its mom

  • sffoghorn

    Local thugs? Seriously?

  • R94110

    16th and Mission?

    Yeah, good point, no chance of that

  • sffoghorn

    If you look like a scared suburban white person with property like you do, then perhaps you have reason to be scared.

  • R94110

    Ah, so victims of violent crime had it coming to them for looking “wrong”?

  • sffoghorn

    Perhaps you’d want the City and County of San Francisco to hire some sort of force to police that area because we don’t really have one now?

  • Mark Lewis

    Yes. Exactly.

  • R94110

    Glad to see that you agree SFPD is under-staffed

  • R94110

    Or you could move from what is obviously a crime-infested rat-hole

  • john doe

    Cant stop change now can you?
    –lily white gay gentrifying ass…and well paid techie.

  • skeets2086

    I find it humorous about the hiring practice, which was mandated by a Fed Judge.

  • skeets2086

    90%is overrated

  • skeets2086

    orh ow about the murder across the street from Northern Station.. Crime happens everywhere.. Criminals are brazen as they know the SFDA is a joke and always has been

  • sffoghorn

    90% pay for retirement after 20 years / age 50.

  • sffoghorn

    Are you suggesting we throw good money after half a billion in bad money every year?

  • R94110

    If you are asking me whether I’d spend more on safety and less on welfare then, yes, a thousand times over

  • skeets2086

    Sorry, your information is erroneous…

  • Mark Lewis

    Or the cops could do their job and police obvious trouble spots.

  • skeets2086

    and the sfpd is more people of color and white officers..

  • R94110

    marc “foghorn” sullivan doesn’t like it when people “out” his affluent comfortable lifestyle.

    It doesn’t mesh with his self-styled alleged “suffering”

  • R94110

    SFPD should police everywhere and not just where you happen to live

  • R94110

    Even the non-white cops get that most of the criminals they chase down aren’t white.

    Stopping and frisking white grandmothers ain’t gonna catch many bad guys

  • Randy F.

    Basically , their hands are tied because ” IF ” ! they do apprehend and incarcerate criminals , often requiring ‘ force ‘ due to CNS stimulating street drugs used by suspects , they’ll be hauled before a court of ” Blue Ribbon Panel ” [ = Marxist/Leninist ] grievance monkeys and …. well .

  • skeets2086

    They never did stop and frisk either…more lies

  • R94110

    marcos NEVER lets facts get in the way of his personal bias and prejudice

  • R94110

    You may be correct but, frankly, I don’t care if they did as long as it helped them arrest the BG’s

  • R94110

    Yes, and political interference from the police commission also prevented SFPD having tasers which would have saved the lives of at least some of the low-lifes that got killed in the commission of crimes and violent felonies

  • Mark Lewis

    I don’t want excuses. I want results. So therefore the police should not even try?

  • Mark Lewis

    Always blaming the DA.

  • Mark Lewis

    Exactly. They should police where I live, too. Which they currently do not.

  • R94110

    So you want 100% of police resources in your area because you happen to live there?

  • Zippster

    Thanks for the mess you left behind, Heather Fong!

  • sffoghorn

    So you do like feeding lazy unions hefty paychecks and pensions.

  • sffoghorn

    Retirement benefits: 3% of final compensation per year of service at age 58, with a maximum of 90% benefit based on years of service.

    Nobody else even comes close to being rewarded this lavishly for not even doing their jobs.

    Greg Suhr is on track to collect 90% of $325,000 pa.

  • hiker_sf

    Identifying someone can get you banned from disqus. Oh and it is a rotten thing to do.

  • hiker_sf

    They would have to actually give a shit to do anything about it.

  • darla simmons

    The commander and creator of the blue ribbon panel is non other than former chief of police in San Francisco. His name is George Gascon. He was replaced by our present chief Greg Suhr. The blue ribbon prize would be given to the person who could answer a most obvious question. Why George, when you were chief, you never made so much as a peep about any racism in the police department you were in charge of? It’s a multiple choice question.
    1. It was not there when I was chief.
    2. I was unaware because ( it really wasn’t there )
    3. I have a political agenda and this scam panel is a vehicle I plan to use to further that agenda. Remember…figures lie and liars figure.

  • Mark Lewis

    I fail to understand how you leaped to that conclusion.

  • Ren

    FYI, Technically it would not be Disqus banning someone but a site that uses it. Disqus allows a system adminstrator to block a Disqus account, email address or IP address from accessing their site.

    But to my knowledge Disqus itself doesn’t block anyone, but rather provides the technology for SA’s to block an individual from their site only.

    It follows that if SFExaminer blocks you or I, we are still free to post elsewhere. This makes sense because each site has its own posting guidelines – some are very strict and some are very lax.

  • john doe

    Now another take–
    Racism is in every police dept in this country. Its how the mgmt. staff keep it in check. When Mr. Gascon was Chief he had just come from L.A. and you can’t become familiar with a dept’s culture in the short time he was Chief. It did not stand out because he was new and other mgmt. kept it in check to keep their jobs. He eventually saw underlying tones of racism and certainly other issues and applied for and was elected DA to get out from under the mess. Remember…Not all police are bad cops just like not all good cops are bad….see makes as much sense as figures lie and liars figure…lol

  • An obvious SFPD cop like R94110 obviously supports the union that supports and covers for him!

  • Do you like it when you get a complaint filed against you for using your department access to look up people you argue with on the internet?

  • Criminals with badges don’t fear being caught in SF either.
    Even the feds haven’t been able to tag anyone for the shipments coming in to Hunters Point under guard.
    Yet.

  • Under-resourced, under-trained, and dominated by a culture that protects officers who blatantly dishonor their oaths and colleagues.

  • Considering the number of officers in SF who haven’t faced any real action even after being caught for blatantly racist and criminal behavior, it’s pretty obvious that you’re totally full of shit.
    Public accountability for public employees isn’t even remotely “Marxist/Leninist,” it’s just good government. Only an raving anti-freedom fascist (like you) would suggest otherwise.

  • sffoghorn

    The SFPD is fully trained, trained to hold San Franciscans in contempt so that they can shoot first and ask questions later without losing sleep over it.

  • Hysterical nonsense like yours almost makes the reactionaries defending corrupt cops seem reasonable in comparison. The whole SF city government treats residents with contempt, so trying to blame it on the cops is pretty meaningless from a fake progressive NIMBY hypocrite like you.

  • sffoghorn

    Since the entire government treats San Franciscans with contempt, as I agree, then that means that the SFPD does not treat San Franciscans with contempt?

    Did you learn to reason like that in cop school?

  • “Cop school…” hmm, are you playing detective? Don’t give up your passive income, marc.
    The SFPD is merely a product of the city’s corrupt government and corrupt population, not the cause of that corruption. Your “reason” apparently lets you pretend you somehow deserve your own privilege even as you whine about the servants who’ve been ordered to protect it for you.
    You’re just one more phony liberal whose ethics only apply to other people’s actions.

  • sffoghorn

    Isn’t it a banning offense to out someone on disqus?

    It is irrelevant whether the SFPD is embedded in a greater pattern of disgust for San Franciscans, the SFPD is armed with weapons and is killing civilians.

    I am paying good money in property taxes to subsidize this crime spree.

  • websamurai

    They need an outsider who is not beholden to the Union.

  • nhr215

    “reports that showed an agency riddled by outdated policies, ineffective procedures, an utter lack of transparency, and patronage and nepotism”

    So basically not much different than most police forces in the US.

    I trust Gascon, an outsider who has been both police chief and district attorney much more than Chief Suhr who has a long-time ass-covering insider that has already been implicated in covering up one major scandal (i.e. fajitagate). He was a poor choice. The Mayor needs to seek outside the department and outside the city to find a replacement for Suhr. That would be a good start.

  • You are as culpable in what the SFPD does to civilians as the cops who pulled those triggers.
    Your entitled ‘I’ve got mine’ elitism directly fuels the policies that lead to their actions, making your corruption indistinguishable from theirs. When you enjoy eating the sausage and then complain about how it’s made, you make yourself a transparent hypocrite. You’re standing on a hill of lies and trying to pass it off as moral high ground.

  • sffoghorn

    You are mentally ill.

  • Randy F.

    Why the vitriol ? ” totally full of shit .” . etc.. You are on the debate team , in your high school ? ‘ Blatantly racist ‘ seems to be the enforcement of laws ‘ laid out to protect the public safety ( Mario Woods was wrong to have attacked the other African-American citizen , as he did. ) These fact finding committees are hand picked to provide the desired results . The protests are often organised by A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition ; a splinter group of Workers World , which is Marxist/Leninist[Stalinist]…

  • Jose Espa

    Gascon is a mix of seasoned law enforcement professional and politician. It makes perfect sense that in doing something as controversial and unusual as indicting law enforcement, Gascon would surround the action with the cover of distinguished judges and an army of law firms saying the same stuff, – the police department leadership is San Francisco is not professional at the level of other cities.

  • Dash Cam

    If you read the HuffPost article, “San Francisco Needs a
    New Police Chief,” written by Karen Fleshman you will get a clear picture of what
    San Franciscans have known all along – it’s time to fire Greg Suhr, current chief of police in San Francisco.

    In fact, the time has been overly ripe for both Edwin Lee and Greg Suhr to be fired, recalled or whatever it takes to get these two individuals and their lack of leadership skills out of their respective jobs and replaced by people who want sustainable, well thought out growth and safety of San Francisco. These guys are definitely not it.

  • Ragazzu

    “If you look like a scared suburban white person with property like you do, then perhaps you have reason to be scared.”

    What a coincidence. That’s how many people of color feel in the presence of cops. For good, well-documented reasons.

  • sffoghorn

    Fire Chief Greg Suhr Now!

  • That’s right, ace, it’s obviously all a commie plot. It’s always the commies, isn’t it?

    Mario Woods was an unhinged drug-fueled thug, but there’s absolutely no reason he couldn’t have been easily disarmed without the firing squad and the ridiculous PR nightmare it produced.
    The SFPD is out of step with its mission to serve the city’s honest citizens – not because of bad, racist, or criminal officers (although there undeniably are some, and they have little reason to fear any consequences as long as the POA protects them all without any regard to the public good), but because of totally inept and unaccountable leadership.

  • Whoa, now that’s a devastating comeback.
    And yet, you can’t even try to deny your own blatant hypocrisy and privileged NIMBYism.
    You and your ilk are dishonorable cowards, and you’re a disgrace to this city.

  • Randy F.

    How long have you been with A.N.S.W.E.R.Coalition ? Try I.S.O. or Spartacist League . At least they are Trotskyist .