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Six months in, majority of SFPD officers untrained in new de-escalation tactics

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Police Chief Bill Scott speaks to a resident during a Police Commission meeting at the Korean American Community Center. 1,530 sworn-in police officers remain untrained in the new use-of-force policy. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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The highly debated use-of-force policy aimed at making the San Francisco Police Department less deadly was passed more than a year ago and finalized in December, but nearly two-thirds of The City’s police force remains untrained in the new de-escalation tactics.

The policy’s aim is to reduce deadly encounters with police by enshrining de-escalation techniques and guidelines centered on the sanctity of life. Since the December 2015 killing of Mario Woods by police, city leaders have pushed reform inside the department. This policy was one of the key parts of that reform.

Only 711 officers out a 2,241-strong force have been trained under the new policies, according to the department. Many of the officers who have been trained are at the busiest stations, including Central, Tenderloin, Mission, Bayview and Southern. (All but Mission and Central saw their use-of-force incidents rise in the first quarter).

That leaves 1,530 sworn officers who remain untrained in the new policy.

This delay, which the San Francisco Police Officers Association has recently raised questions about, is due to the time it takes to train officers while at the same time keeping a fully staffed force on the streets, according to department officials.

The police union, which fought tooth and nail over parts of the policy, including baring shooting at moving cars and banning the carotid hold, is now complaining that many of it’s members have yet to be trained.

“Several stations have not received training. This training should have been completed within six months after the Police Commission adopted the new policy,” noted an item in the July issue of the POA Journal, adding that the chief had been notified and was going to look into the matter.

Chief Bill Scott acknowledged the training is taking time.

“There’s a lot of things on our plate that we know we need to do and we’ve agreed to do and are part of the reform work that we are doing,” Scott said.

The timeframe of the training is due, in part, to everything from the number of officers who can be trained each week to a changing curriculum, according to SFPD spokesperson Michael Andraychak.

For instance, the training, which began in February, includes a 20-hour class with 30 officers per class. In all, that means about 60 officers can be trained each week, if the classes are held weekly and are filled.
Every officer taken away from district stations for training must be replaced by officer from other stations.

This time lag is troubling to some who hoped such training would be prioritized.

“I would hope that SFPD would prioritize the training of officers,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi said. “I’m at a loss as to why this could not have been done faster.”

Alan Schlosser, a lawyer for the ACLU, said, “Having only a third of the police force trained on something as basic as that is a little disturbing. Use of force is perhaps the centerpiece of reform.”

On the other hand, the department has been touting its de-escalation training over the past year in the wake of a number of critical incidents that ended peacefully.

As it stands, there is too little data on use of force in conjunction with the training to fully understand its impact, according to Adachi. To truly know if the training is working, Adachi added, there has to be comparison between an officer’s’ training and his or her use of force.

Still, Scott has attributed the drop in use-of-force incidents this year to the training.

“The data shows that the Department’s efforts to train our officers on tactics such as de-escalation and proportionality is paying off,” Scott said in a statement in May.

The department reported 802 use-of-force incidents between January and March of this year, a 15.8 percent decrease — 149 fewer incidents — from the first quarter of last year.

Of those incidents, 531 were officers pulling a firearm. Still, with those incidents subtracted, there was a decline of 26 incidents.

In that period there have been at least three shooting incidents, including one fatality and another injury.

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