Stubborn police, disappointed activists and befuddled officials.
Such is the state of San Francisco’s plans for police reforms sparked by recent police killings and the reaction to those deaths by Black Lives Matter protesters, among others.
If the Police Commission meeting Wednesday night was any indication, Mayor Ed Lee’s package of police reforms — meant to reduce the number of people killed by police — are in danger of foundering. Compromise was in short supply.
Hours after the contentious meeting, another man was shot and killed by officers late Thursday morning in the Mission. The event will likely further showcase the need for changes in police tactics and inflame the rhetoric around the proposed introduction of stun guns and policies meant to de-escalate encounters with police.
“We are all striving to make sure officer-involved shootings are rare and only occur as a last resort,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement after Thursday’s shooting.
Like Mario Woods, whose killing launched The City’s push for police reforms, the man killed by police Thursday allegedly had a knife. Woods was killed in December after being surrounded by a group of police in the Bayview. Video footage contradicted the official version of the event, which said Woods was going to use his knife against an officer.
The heart of the Woods-prompted reforms — which are proceeding alongside a Department of Justice review of police tactics and a Blue Ribbon Commission studying bias in the force — are meant to emphasize de-escalation techniques, like time and distance, and make the sanctity of life a centerpiece of new, kinder policing policies.
The current use of force policy was written in 1995.
But police watchdog groups and the police union were at loggerheads over what is the first draft of the new policies Wednesday night, and the Police Commission was caught in the middle.
Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin, the point person on drafting the use of force policy, told the commission Wednesday that there were more than 14 points of serious difference between those in the working group writing the policy, though there had been some consensus.
But other speakers Wednesday said they took issue with Chaplain’s downplaying of the chasm that exists between the parties.
Police watchdogs took issue with the draft’s language. It leaves too many loopholes which could be used to explain violent behavior and giving officer’s discretion in situations they should have clear directive. The removal of language speaking of “minimal reliance on use of force” and replacing it with “reasonable” reflected a step backward.
Alan Schlosser, a lawyer of the American Civil Liberties Union Northern California Branch, said the policy as written could not be called a reform.
“Police, they don’t want a higher standard,” Schlosser said. “I feel the document reflects a resistance to change.”
The police union, however, had the opposite opinion.
Police Officers Association President Martin Halloran, whose union has been helping to negotiate the reforms, said his union supported change, but then handed the commission the POA’s own policy draft Wednesday night. Until then the commission didn’t know the union had an alternate plan.
And a representative for the Asian Police Officers Association went one further, stating that his group thinks the policies should stay as they are.
“I didn’t think it would come to the point where [we’re] coming up with alternate plans,” said a perplexed Commissioner Joe Marshall about the multiple proposals.
The issue of stun guns, which the department has requested as part of the use of force reforms, and which has been included in the draft policy, will no doubt be that much more a part of the debate now that another officer has shot someone on The City’s streets.
Halloran and his union want all officers to have them; the ACLU and others don’t want any officers to have what they say are dangerous weapons.