Mayor Ed Lee says he is pleased with the direction San Francisco’s acting police chief has taken the department but isn’t ready to announce his support for any candidate.
Last week, a media report surfaced indicating Lee had proclaimed his support for Chaplin as the permanent chief. The Mayor’s Office, however, has refuted that claim.
“Clearly, with no question, I support Chief Toney Chaplin as the interim chief,” Lee told the San Francisco Examiner on Monday morning. He added, however, that supporting Chaplin without completing the search is “a little premature.”
In fact, in the Bayview on Monday night, the San Francisco Police Commission held the first of five community meetings. Commissioner Julius Turman said they are seeking input about what qualities the police chief candidates should have before forwarding them on to the mayor for approval in September.
In what was purported to be an informal meeting, three circles of chairs were set up in the Alex Pitcher Jr. Community Center at the City College of San Francisco’s Southeast Campus in the Bayview, where interested residents could sit in a circle and discuss policy with Police Commissioners Joe Marshall, Victor Hwang and Turman.
Only enough community members, about 30 to 35, to fill two of the circles showed up.
After consolidating into the two groups, many residents in the Bayview aired grievances over policing in the Bayview as well as the process of selecting the next police chief.
Although many who showed up at the meeting had similar concerns about policing in San Francisco — from community policing and use of force to working with young people, who notably were underrepresented at Monday’s meeting — some members of the community had wildly divergent ideas on the next police chief.
One man in a circle felt that former Police Chief Greg Suhr should be reinstated and that he “got a raw deal.” Others expressed support for Chaplin, who has worked in and been a part of the community for nearly 30 years. One coalition of neighbors and activist groups even called for no police chief and said the Police Department should be supervised by a community care-giver.
“We want [the chief’s position] to go back into a community care-giver [role], and we’re actually renaming the idea of police chief, which inherently means [now] that you’re supervising people on the street with guns and that so far has resulted in the deaths of poor people, black and brown young people, and disabled people,” said Bayview resident Tiny, of Poor Magazine, one of the many neighborhood activists who attended the meeting.
Lee appointed Chaplin as acting chief in May after Suhr tendered his resignation following the latest fatal police shooting in San Francisco. Such incidents have been in the national spotlight in recent years as communities push for less-lethal ways for the police to handle certain situations.
In fact, two recent standoffs between police and suspects in San Francisco that did not lead to any shootings were examples highlighted by Lee on Monday as evidence of reforms implemented in the department under Chaplin’s leadership.
Specifically, Lee pointed to a tense, hours-long standoff in the mid-Market area July 6 that prompted the arrest of an armed suspect. Police said they “created time and space” to resolve that situation peacefully.
“Our goal is not to use any force,” police spokesperson Officer Grace Gatpandan said during the standoff.
“There is a process for selecting a new chief that is currently underway and Mayor Ed Lee respects that process,” a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said. “The mayor appointed Acting Chief Chaplin because he has faith and confidence that Acting Chief Chaplin can do what needs to be done — move police reforms forward and rebuild trust with our communities. While the search for a permanent chief continues, Mayor Lee will do everything he can to support Acting Chief Chaplin’s management of the police department”
The application period for chief is open through Aug. 31, and the Police Commission is tasked with identifying up to three candidates for the mayor to consider.
“The commission is committed to engaging in a public, fair and transparent process to nominate the top candidates for the mayor’s consideration,” Commissioner Victor Hwang said. “The charter gives the mayor the ultimate power to appoint the next chief.”
Many people at the Police Commission meeting on Monday night expressed cynicism to the San Francisco Examiner about the public’s input in selecting the next police chief, believing that Chaplin is a lock. They said the community meetings are just window dressing.
“This is a dog and pony show,” said Mesha Irizarry, whose son, Idriss Stelley, was killed by San Francisco police in 2001. He was shot 48 times.
Commissioner Joe Marshall dismissed the idea that Chaplin was a lock and said the community was there to share what qualities they’d like to see in a new chief and decried what he admittedly called “a long process.”
As for Chaplin, Marshall said, “The mayor can only choose from the names we give him.”
Marshall said he didn’t even know if Chaplin had applied for the job.
“I don’t know if he’s throwing his hat in the ring, I don’t know if he will, but if he does, he’ll be part of [the search], you know, he has as much chance as anyone else,” Marshall said.
Commission President Suzy Loftus reiterated Sunday that no decision has been made on who will be the next police chief.
“Great candidates should continue to apply,” she told the Examiner. “In order to preserve the integrity of this important process, it’s critical that we keep an open mind and consider all candidates fairly and equally.”
S.F. Examiner Staff Writer Michael Barba contributed to this report.