Police Commissioner Robert Hirsch has requested an investigation into concerns raised about bias within the police force. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Police Commissioner Robert Hirsch has requested an investigation into concerns raised about bias within the police force. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Police Commission president calls for probe into allegations of ‘rampant’ anti-black bias in SFPD

A newly surfaced email alleging widespread anti-black bias in San Francisco’s police force has prompted the president of the Police Commission to call for an investigation into the matter.

Police Commission President Robert Hirsch asked the Department of Police Accountability to launch the investigation on Feb. 14 after the San Francisco Examiner revealed the email in an article.

Sent by a city worker who taught implicit bias classes to officers for more than two years, the email called the degree of anti-black sentiment in the San Francisco Police Department “extreme.”

“While I will not jump to conclusions, the allegations are serious, and all the San Francisco police commissioners have concerns and questions about the allegations in the article,” Hirsch wrote in a letter to DPA Executive Director Paul Henderson.

“I have no way of assessing where the DPA’s investigation may lead, but it is critical that the commission, the department and the public have a clear understanding of the racial climate in the San Francisco Police Department,” Hirsch added.

Hirsch requested that the DPA — a civilian agency that is tasked with investigating complaints against officers — determine whether “SFPD personnel and management have complied with department policies prohibiting racial discrimination.”

Henderson, the DPA director, could not be reached to confirm whether an investigation had been launched.

When former Department of Human Resources manager Dante King sent the email to Police Chief Bill Scott and DHR Director Micki Callahan in April 2019, he was responding to a “severely” racist blog post mocking an acting police captain who is African American.

In the email, King offered several examples of anti-black bias that he said demonstrate the “compromised integrity of SFPD” and created “an unsafe environment” for black people on the force and in the public.

King named a captain who allegedly told him his class “would be received much better if [he] were a white person.” King also accused a sergeant of saying he would chase a black suspect over a white suspect because black people statistically commit more crimes.

King wrote that there was “an immense amount of anger present and expressed on so many other occasions at the mention or notion of historical and present injustices and/or biases based on race.” He described the problem as “rampant.”

King previously declined to comment when reached by phone.

A day after the story ran, Scott responded to the allegations in a Feb. 13 email to all members of the SFPD.

“I don’t believe this department is anti-black nor do I believe SFPD possesses extreme negative sentiment against anyone we serve,” Scott wrote in the email obtained by the Examiner.

Scott said implicit bias training is supposed to be a place where officers can have “truthful, frank, confidential and productive” conversations.

“I am deeply disappointed that in this case, that safe space for our members was violated,” Scott wrote.

The Examiner obtained King’s email through a public records request earlier this month.

Police Commission members Cindy Elias and John Hamasaki have since asked the chief to address the email at a future meeting.

The email raised questions about the progress the SFPD has made toward implementing 272 recommendations for reform issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in October 2016.

“We were all pretty optimistic about the DOJ reforms,” Hamasaki said at the Feb. 12 commission meeting. “And it sounds like somebody who was working inside the department training officers on bias and equity had some real concerns that he expressed to the chief.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Crime

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