DA-launched review of SFPD recommends reforms, some already in works

A year-long inquiry into bias in the San Francisco Police Department has found the liberal city’s department is in dire need of reform to rebuild public trust that’s been broken after a series of scandals and long-time practices of policing of communities of color.

“The SFPD is in need of greater transparency; lacks robust oversight; must rebuild trust with the communities it serves; and should pay greater attention to issues of bias against people of color, both officers and members of the public,” noted the three judge panel’s report. “In short, the panel concludes that the SFPD is in urgent need of important reforms.”

Still, many of the report’s recommendations have already been put into action or are in the process of being implemented.

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement’s report comes at a time when the nation’s eyes are focused on policing on the heels of the killing of five police officers in Dallas. The officers were shot to death at a protest over fatal shootings by police of black men last week.

The three judge panel’s preliminary findings were released May 9, but the full report — released Monday — goes into additional detail about what the inquiry found and what it recommends.

The Police Department, which took a wait and see approach, and the Police Officers Association, which attacked the report, both released reactions soon after the report was released.

“The department has received the report by the Blue Ribbon Panel. We appreciate the
efforts of the panel members. The department will conduct an analysis of the report
over the next few weeks, and forward a copy to the U.S. Department of Justice to be
considered for inclusion in its comprehensive review of the Police Department,” the department said in a statement.

Judge LaDoris H. Cordell speaks during a press conference held by the Blue Ribbon Panel announcing their findings of SFPD oversights in San Francisco, Calif. Monday, July 11, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
Judge LaDoris H. Cordell speaks during a press conference held by the Blue Ribbon Panel announcing their findings of SFPD oversights in San Francisco, Calif. Monday, July 11, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

The POA called the panel “biased” and a “kangaroo court,” continuing its opposition to the body.

Union President Martin Halloran said the panel’s report was “divisive at a time when San Francisco sorely needs unity between police officers and the community we serve.”

“We’re sitting on a tinderbox and [District Attorney George] Gascon is lighting a match,” added Halloran. “It’s the wildly irresponsible act of a man who is thirsty for media coverage at any cost.”

The inquiry, launched by the district attorney last year, is one of two reviews of the San Francisco Police Department, which, along with other agencies across the U.S., has been under a microscope for its policing practices in recent years. The other inquiry, a collaborative review, is being directed by the federal Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Service.

Reforms aimed at changing how police in San Francisco use force and a rooting out of bias police have been a main concern for the department, which saw former Chief Greg Suhr resign after The City’s latest fatal police shooting in May.

The current reform efforts — now headed by acting Chief Toney Chaplin — were sparked after protesters began pushing for reforms in the wake of two racist text scandals involving police officers and a series of police shootings that began with Mario Woods in December.

In March 2015, District Attorney George Gascon launched the panel, but since then it has faced opposition from the Police Department and the Police Officers Association, which has accused the panel of being biased and politically motivated.

The panel’s main task was noted in the report: “Was the racial and homophobic bias so clearly demonstrated by the offensive texts a reflection of institutionalized bias within the SFPD and, if so, to what extent?”

Findings and recommendations

The panel’s review, broken into seven parts examined by seven pro bono law firms, looked into everything from bias, hiring and discipline to data collection and traffic stops.

The independent panel’s executive director, Anand Subramanian, previously noted some of the body’s initial findings, which are reflected in the final report.

“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,” wrote Subramanian.

The report recommended that the department change its practices in a number of areas.

The department should expand community policing efforts, improve and expand implicit bias training and make the collection of data across the board a priority, per the report. The department should also stop all practices that result in stop and frisk tactics.

The department also needs to make its hiring practice more transparent and fair by streamlining background checks and having command staff oversight of the chief’s hiring decision. The department should also increase its effort to hire people from diverse backgrounds, the report stated.

Many of the report’s recommendations on use of force reforms, from limiting carotid holds to expanding reportage incident of use of force, have already begun to be implemented.

When it comes to discipline the report said the department should have civilian leadership of the Internal Affairs Unit, streamline and track its discipline cases as well as protect whistle blowers and prevent cover ups.

The report recommends that the department should create an office of Inspector General who regularly audits the department and the Office of Citizen Complaints powers should be expanded, a move that has already been made.

The department’s Brady practices and policies must be made more clear, transparent and robust, according to the report. Brady policies are mainly related to when officers testify in court. If an officer is on a Brady list it means the officer has been found to have lied or is untrustworthy and so could be impeached by the defense.

The department’s leadership should take proactive steps to eliminate any culture of bias in the ranks by regularly meeting with employee groups, and root out favoritism, nepotism and special treatment of those in the “good old boy” network, the report also recommended.

Read through the report below.

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