Survey shows many SF cops unhappy with use of force reforms pushed by Chief Suhr

At least half of San Francisco’s police officers don’t support the use of force reforms proposed by The City’s Police Commission, according to a recent survey conducted by the officers’ union.

In fact, the survey indicates officers — who must eventually buy into to the new rules for them to work — already use “de-escalation techniques” that are being pushed by reformers. Use of force can be anything from an officer scuffling with a suspect to the officer pulling out and firing their gun.

The survey, released in this month’s issue of the San Francisco Police Officers Association Journal, queried nearly 1,000 of The City’s 2,200 officers on a variety of issues around use of force and may indicate more widespread discontent around the matter.

“It will get us hurt, killed and sued,” said one respondent about the proposed policies.

The issue has taken center stage since Mayor Ed Lee called on the Police Commission and department to craft new policies that emphasize de-escalation techniques and keeping suspects alive following the killing of Mario Woods last December by police.

Use of force and reform proposals have been met with a mixed reaction from officers and their union. While the union has said it supports some of the reforms — it sits on the working group crafting the new policy — it has also said publically that it feels left out of the larger process of reforms being pushed by Lee and Chief Greg Suhr.

As recently as March 2, the union held an emergency meeting that mostly addressed rumblings of discontent in the ranks and a possible vote of no confidence in the chief, according to the journal.

One survey respondent seemed to encapsulate rank and file issues with Suhr’s support for the reforms: “The chief should be ashamed of himself for trying to pass this policy.”

Another respondent said: “The command staff needs to remember where they came from and stop being puppets.”

Such grumblings appear to have been addressed by POA President Martin Halloran, who told the March 2 gathering “that while the POA has had disagreements with the chief, he has been very good in other areas. The POA executive board would oppose such a vote.”

But the survey paints a clearer picture of the discontent among police.

Overall, respondents were overwhelming displeased with the proposed changes to use of force rules. Nearly all — 87 percent — “strongly disagree” with the proposed use of force rules being written up by the Police Commission and 67 percent “strongly disagree” with the proposed rules around reporting use of force incidents.

The intended result of the new rules is fewer deaths at the hands of police. That means training officers to using distance and time as tools to decrease tense situations.

The proposals also includes new requirements around proportional reaction, requiring officers to use differing levels of force depending on the crime and incident. More concretely, it prohibits shooting at cars, and expands when officers report use of force incidents.

Despite opposition, the Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said the rules have one main goal: to limiting the use of lethal force.

Not surprisingly, most offices surveyed support the current rules around use of force.

Fifty percent were “very satisfied” with the current use of force rules and 38 percent said they were “somewhat satisfied.”

Nearly 20 percent said they have been involved in a use of force incident within the past month to six months, and 50 percent said they have successfully used de-escalation techniques in the past month.

Union members were were told March 2 by union leaders that the final reforms adopted by the Police Commission can only be implemented after a meet-and-confer process with the union.

Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

Jonah Owen Lamb

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