Executive director Anand Subramanian speaks as panel members (front, from left) Judge Cruz Reynoso, Judge Dickran M. Tevrizian and Judge LaDoris H. Cordell sit nearby during a press conference held by the Blue Ribbon Panel announcing their findings on SFPD oversight. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Blue Ribbon Panel: SFPD culture a bar to reforms

A three-judge panel investigating reports of bias in the San Francisco Police Department determined institutional racism and bias exist among officers and the biggest hurdle to change is the department’s culture.

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement, which found the department has little real oversight, took strong aim at the Police Officers Association, which panel members said essentially runs the department through a culture of “us against them” and attacks anyone who goes against the so-called thin blue line.

“The findings from this report show that the San Francisco Police Department, for all practical purposes, is really run by the POA,” said Judge LaDoris Cordell, who added that the union sets the tone for the department through intimidation and attitudes that insist there is no systematic bias in need of reforms.

While the report’s findings included recommendations on a variety of topics, at it’s unveiling Monday the body pointed to culture as one of the most difficult things to change, but one of the most vital when it comes to police reforms.

Former Chief Greg Suhr, who resigned in May after the most recent fatal police shooting, has even said previously that culture trumps policy every time.

The union has from the panel’s start opposed the project. Monday’s reaction to the report was no different.

“On Thursday, a sniper in Dallas took aim at police officers and murdered five in cold blood. Today, [District Attorney] George Gascon is taking aim at police officers in San Francisco with half-truths and distortions,” began a statement from the union’s head, Martin Halloran.

“Gascon organized this whole charade to publicize his inflammatory claims of widespread racism in the Police Department, when in fact the problem is much more limited in scope. This panel is nothing more than a kangaroo court orchestrated by Gascon and the three puppets he handpicked.”

Officers are going to have to change how they see themselves by moving from a warrior outlook to a guardian, said Colin West with Morgan Lewis, one of the law firms that worked pro bono on the report.

Ray Marshall of the Sheppard Mullin law firm, who also looked into department’s culture and the POA, said there was a splintered vision of the department.

“It was a tale of two cities,” he said of how police officers saw the department. One group, provided by the POA, said no bias exists in the department. The other group, which came independent of the POA, said there is bias.

The second group said institutional bias, including sexism, racism and homophobia was alive and well in the department, said Marshall.

Despite the officer’s’ opinions on bias, there is “a real fear of being able to speak publicly,” for fear of retaliation, he added.

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