(Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner)

(Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner)

First-of-its-kind data release shows racial disparities in SFPD’s arrests, use of force

San Francisco police pull their guns, strike and use physical controls against black people — who account for a mere 6 percent of The City’s population — in higher numbers than any other group, but officers rarely use such force out of fear for their lives or the safety of others.

That’s according to first-of-its-kind data released by the San Francisco Police Department as part of a recently passed city law aimed at making the department more transparent. The statistics, from January to March, include data on a number of incident types, but focus on use of force and arrests.

“This first step is important down the road to establishing trust,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen, who authored the Law Enforcement Reporting Requirements mandate.

Despite the report’s findings, which were provided by the SFPD last week, the department cautioned that officers use force in a small fraction of all interactions.

“It is important to note that the majority of police contacts with members of the public do not result in the use of force,” reads the report’s department analysis. “In the first quarter of 2016, the department responded to 157,740 calls for service — 99,461 calls that were dispatched and 58,279 self-initiated or ‘on view’ encounters.”

The release of the first quarterly report comes on the heels of new use of force rules passed by the Police Commission, which are meant to reduce the number of fatal encounters.

Still, transparency remains a stumbling block to accountability, according to a year-long report by the District Attorney-formed Blue Ribbon Panel on police accountability.

The data

There were 947 use-of-force incidents in the first quarter of 2016, which involved 341 officers. In most cases, one officer was involved.

A majority of the reported incidents were for pulling a gun, which amounts to 648 times an officer drew a weapon since January — 68 percent of all use-of-force incidents.

Another 20 percent — 191 incidents — involved physical control. Six percent of such incidents — 60 — were for striking someone with a fist or object.

A variety of crimes led to officers using force.

Twenty-two percent involved serious property crimes. Suspicious persons accounted for 20.8 percent of such incidents, and 20.5 percent were related to serious violent crimes. Only 8.5 percent involved suspects with guns and 3.8 percent involved subjects with knives. Only 6.7 percent involved traffic incidents.


Police used force against black people more than any other group, and data shows every category of force was used in higher numbers against black people.

Forty-five percent of force incidents involved black people, followed by 29 percent that involved white people. Hispanic people accounted for 19 percent of use-of-force incidents, and 7 percent involved Asian people.

In the majority of the use-of-force incidents in which guns were pulled — 307 — black people were involved. Physical controls of black people were used 73 times. Striking black people accounted for 33 incidents.

White males — 43 percent of the SFPD’s roughly 2,300 officers — accounted for 47 percent of such incidents. Asian male officers — 20 percent of the force — were involved in 20 percent of use-of-force incidents. Sixteen percent involved Hispanic male officers — comprising 13 percent of the force. Only 5 percent of all incidents involved black male officers, who make up 7 percent of the force.


Officers said 71.4 percent of the time they used force to “effect a lawful arrest, search, arrest, detention or escape.” Only 25 percent of such incidents were justified, so as to “gain compliance with a lawful order.” Less than
1 percent were because an officer acted in self-defense or to protect others.

Forty percent of the 5,416 arrests during this period were black people. Thirty one percent were white, and 20 percent were Hispanic.


Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeinkCrimeMalia Cohenpolicepolice accountabilitySFPDUse of Force

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