As the San Francisco Police Department continues its hiring surge after years of declining numbers, questions have arisen recently about the fairness of the recruitment process and the resulting quality of recruits.
In September, the San Francisco Examiner wrote about the special treatment given to a family friend of the chief.
Now, a group of San Francisco police officers are upset over a decisions by brass to allow failing trainees to stay in the department even though they were recommended for release, according to the memo obtained by the Examiner.
The memo raises questions about a trend that may be putting unqualified officers onto city streets.
The memo, sent to field training officers by a commander, was leaked to the Examiner after a story was published explaining one such case involving Jake Lawson, a family friend of Chief Greg Suhr. Earlier this year, Lawson, then a police recruit, failed his training in the field, yet was transferred to another station despite department rules.
Suhr denied that any special treatment was given and implicitly said such practices are not condoned in the department.
But soon afterward, the Examiner received a department memo pointing out the practice is widespread and angering rank and file field training officers.
After the academy, the final step for all police officers is a 17-week field training course that they must pass. Every one of the department’s 10 stations has several field training officers whose responsibility is to take recruits fresh from the academy through their last training period.
Their recommendations are what gives each recruit the green light for advancement or a red light for expulsion from the department.
In the undated email memo sent by Sgt. Matt Rodgers, who helped run the field training program, he allayed concerns about letting someone who should have been fired stay on. While it is unclear who the recruit in question is, the memo may be pointing to Suhr’s family friend, Lawson.
“A recruit was reassigned to another station and assigned to another FTO,” wrote Rodgers in the memo, which was addressed to all FTO staff. “While this is not unprecedented, it is outside of the normal procedures set forth by the Field Training Program.”
The memo goes on: “I have heard a considerable amount of frustration expressed regarding this decision: the consensus being that this decision undermines us as FTO’s [sic]. Additionally, that it must be predicated on either a lack of trust, or is a blatant disregard of the knowledge, skills, and abilities we possess in doing so. While we can surmise the ultimate reason behind said decision, we as FTO’s must understand that we have no say in such matters.”
A police department spokesperson did not return calls by press time.
The Lawson case seems to illustrate the frustration outlined in Rodgers’ memo. Lawson, who was a police officer from January 2015 to June and a cadet from January 2014 to January 2015, failed his first academy class as well as his field
training. In both cases he was given second chances not afforded to others.
Lawson denied any special treatment, but such second and third chances are not normal, according to officials and department manuals. The chief’s office made the final call on such second chances.
According to a 2008 department assessment, field training extensions are rare but not without precedent. But in such cases, trainees are only afforded a month extension. Lawson was given a more than three-month extension.
In early 2015, Lawson was sent to Bayview Station and started his field training. But he couldn’t hack police work and failed out, an event that would end almost any new officer’s career, according to sources with knowledge of the department as well as department manuals.
Lawson was eventually transferred to another station to go through the field training again. That transfer order, dated March 28 was signed by Suhr.
It was not the first time Suhr gave someone he knew an extension. In 2003, Suhr signed a memo giving Alex Fagan Jr., the son of a colleague, an extension in his probation even though Fagan had been embroiled in what has come to be known as Fajitagate.
But Lawson failed his Central Station field training and was finally let go by the department.
Below is a copy of the emailed memo sent to San Francisco police field trainers.
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