Civil Grand Jury report slams pace of police shooting investigations

Investigations into fatal police shootings take too long and lack transparency, according to a report from San Francisco’s Civil Grand Jury released Wednesday.

The report — which comes as the San Francisco Police Department is undergoing the greatest level of changes it’s ever seen, by some accounts, from de-escalation training to the implementation of body cameras — suggests creating a new oversight task force to conduct investigations with greater input from more city agencies.

Sluggish investigations are conducted by the SFPD, which takes the lead on investigating its own officers with help from the District Attorney’s Office, the Police Commission and the Office of Citizens Complaints, the report states, adding that none have adequately informed the public about how the investigative process works.

The report, “Into the Open: Opportunities for More Timely and Transparent Investigations of Fatal San Francisco Police Department Officer-Involved Shootings,” recommends creating a new oversight task force with additional input from the Sheriff’s Office, the Medical Examiner’s Office and others. Each city agency investigating should create a website that distributes public information, the jury recommended.

In addition to the department’s ongoing changes, San Francisco voters passed Proposition D in June for the Office of Citizen Complaints to investigate every police shooting that results in injury or death, in part because only eight of the 35 shootings over the last five years sparked investigations because citizens filed complaints.

Supervisor Malia Cohen supported Prop. D and plans to introduce a ballot measure in November that would give the OCC greater access to information about police, personnel and reports, plus the power to audit the Police Department.

The measure also seeks to rename the OCC, which Cohen’s legislative aide Mawuli Tugbenyoh called “an inconspicuous name — people call there with calls that should be going to 311,” to become the Department of Police Accountability.

The Grand Jury’s report “memorializes or quantifies what the community across The City has been standing up and saying. They want more accountability, they want more transparency and they want more oversight in law enforcement,” Tugbenyoh said.

Wednesday’s report highlighted the 18 people who were fatally shot by police since 2011.

The jurors recommended that the Police Department and the Police Commission make it official policy to publicly release the names of all officers involved in each police shooting within 10 days or as soon as known threats to those officers’ safety has passed.

Public access to officers’ names has been “spotty,” released after six of the eight most recent fatal shootings but withheld for no publicly known reason after the shootings of Javier Lopez Garcia in November and Herbert Benitez in October 2015, according to the report.

In a statement, the Police Department said, “We appreciate the efforts of the Grand Jury members and will be conducting an analysis of the report to determine any course of action.”

The Civil Grand Jury is a government oversight panel of 19 appointed volunteers who serve for one year, issuing reports and recommendations on their findings. Each county agency the jury addresses must respond to the reports within 60 to 90 days of its publishing

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