New police unit launched to fight hate crimes

SFPD Community Liaison Unit seeks to build trust with community and prevent prejudice-based crimes

A new Community Liaison Unit intended to help the City’s diverse communities feel secure and confident when working with SFPD was announced Friday by Mayor London Breed.

Up to five SFPD Community Engagement Division officers will work to gain the trust of minority communities including, but not limited to, Asian and Pacific Islander, African American and LGBTQ+ residents by regularly attending community meetings throughout the city and teaching San Franciscans how to prevent hate-motivated crimes. Additionally, the officers will work on tracking prejudice-based incidents, identifying patterns and intervention techniques, and helping members of these communities navigate the criminal justice system.

“We want to make sure that anyone who is a victim of a hate crime or any other crime motivated by prejudice knows that their City and their police department is there to help them,” said Breed. “This new unit will give the community a place to turn to when they need assistance, and where they know they’ll be treated with dignity and respect.”

The liaison unit was prompted by the increased reports of violence against Asian and Pacific Islander residents in San Francisco, in hopes to build on Breeds efforts to bring the community together against discrimination. Just last month, the Examiner reported on a national survey by Stop AAPI Hate on Asian American youth who’ve experienced prejudice or racial hostility this year, finding that “California accounts for 1,135 of [2,600] incidents, while 258 occurred in San Francisco [on Oct. 17].”

“Building trust and communication between law enforcement and diverse communities is crucial to keeping our communities safe,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “With anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes on the rise, this new program will be especially beneficial for our Asian Pacific Islander communities navigating this difficult time.”

Angela Chan, policy director and senior staff attorney of Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Asian Law Caucus, said her office has received an uptick in reports of hate motivated incidents.

Chan, a former police commissioner, has witnessed prior community liaison efforts in San Francisco and expressed skepticism about the new task force. In order to be more effective, Chan believes that the new unit needs to be transparent, “reporting out [what they’re hearing from the community] to the public…and openly and transparently asking or recommending to the department changes recommended by the community. [As well as] having authority and weight behind those recommendations, [they] also need to be abetted by the community. We don’t want the liaisons to be the arbitrator…we want to make sure that there’s real community input.”

She said that she will also be looking to see “if members of the unit are fluent in other languages [and culturally competent], especially the primary languages in San Francisco: Cantonese, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Vietnamese and Tagalog.”

According to Breed’s announcement, the liaison unit will promote the use of crime tip lines for non-English language speakers and WeChat — a Chinese messaging social media app — in an attempt to improve SFPD’s communication with monolingual speaking residents.

In addition to services for non-English language speakers, Cynthia Choi, co-director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, echoed the requests of Asian and Pacific Island community members who would like to see consistent and timely responses after an incident has been committed.

“This is a time where we’re talking about racial justice. This is also a time that we are looking at institutional responses and looking at the role of policing in responding to violence and hate,” said Choi. “I think it’s going to be important that we take a much more holistic view on how to address these enduring challenges that our communities are facing.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with additional clarifying comment from Angela Chan.

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