SF Sheriff's Department more diverse than SFPD

A San Francisco County sheriff's deputy stands outside the Felony Wing at San Francisco County Jail adjacent to the Hall of Justice. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo)

The City’s second largest law enforcement agency, the Sheriff’s Department, is far more diverse than the San Francisco Police Department, despite the SFPD’s effort to tout its inclusionary culture.

Seventy-one percent of the sworn staff working for the Sheriff’s Department are minorities; the largest group — 275 — are Asian. The number of white officers, the second largest single race in the department, is 241. There are 154 blacks, 153 Latinos and three Native Americans. As of April, there were a total of 826 sworn staff in the department.

“Relative to recruitment, our diverse hiring is intentional, said Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. “It reflects a commitment to the principles of community policing, by helping build trust inside our jails and out in the public.”

In an era where racial bias and racial makeup in law enforcement ranks has become a major public concern, many have been asking how the ranks of police and Sheriff’s Department’s match up to the community they serve. Or in the case of sheriff’s deputies, the inmates they guard — the majority of whom are black.

“I only know that we are probably the most diverse department in the nation,” said Eugene Cerbone, the head of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Cerbone, who noted that his members also include a sizable group of LGBT deputies as well.

Still, he says The City hasn’t done all it can to make sure all sorts of people are in the Sheriff’s Department. When it comes to language access, which speaks to the level of diversity in the ranks, certification tests for deputies who speak a second language have not been given for years.

“It has been some eight years since The City has offered bilingual testing to deputy sheriffs, in both Spanish and Cantonese/Mandarin. How many more years must go by and deputies with those skills retiring, before the tests are offered?” Still, the Sheriff’s Department’s diversity numbers stand out. SFPD, while diverse, doesn’t approach the numbers inside the sheriff’s ranks.

“I see the diversity of our department as a positive and an asset,” Cerbone said. “My deputies work well with each other and have made many friends amongst their peers. I have meet some wonderful people in this department … who come from different backgrounds than mine and I believe I’m a better person today for knowing, befriending and working side by side with them.”

Last month, in the wake of a scandal around racist texts sent by a group of police officers, the department’s union released an advertisement pushing the department’s diversity. In fact, the union said the department was the nation’s most diverse.

While San Francisco’s police force is diverse when compared to other departments, several other large California cities are more so. SFPD’s 50.82 percent white; there are 1,109 white officers out of a force of 2,124.

Still, the Sheriff Department hasn’t been absent the race-laced scandals plaguing police. An investigation sparked by Public Defender Jeff Adachi uncovered evidence that inmates were being pitted against one another in gladiator-like fights. In this case the guards were all white and the inmates were black and Latino.

“Diversity is great and it’s something that should be promoted,” said Adachi. “But it’s not a magic pill that counters misconduct or even racist…bias and looking the other way when witnessing misconduct effect officers of all ethnicities. Diversity isn’t the same as accountability.”

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