The last time the San Francisco Police Department studied police shootings in The City, it found the department needed to find less lethal tools and training to ensure fewer incidents escalate into shootings.
While some of the 5-year-old study’s recommendations were implemented — and use-of-force incidents have declined since — the average number of officer shooting incidents has not changed.
Those issues are back on the table following the shooting death of 26-year-old Mario Woods. Now, some are asking why it took Woods’ death to push the department to reform its 20-year-old use-of-force policies.
Mayor Ed Lee recently told the department to start reforming that process. Just this week, the department put out a bulletin that says pulling out a gun amounts to a use of force.
The January 2010 study of shootings between 2005 and 2009 analyzed 15 different incidents.
“The results of this study — although that wasn’t the purpose of it, that’s just what jumped off the page — was the need for us to look at a Taser, or a Taser-like weapon, as an option,” Morris Tabak, the study’s author, told PoliceOne magazine at the time.
While the Police Commission rejected that request, other findings came from the study which can inform the current debate.
In some of the shootings — seven involved threats from guns — less-than-lethal tools could have been used, but were not. What’s more, 10 of the shootings escalated from verbal persuasion directly to firearms.
One third of the incidents involved mentally ill shooting victims or suspects, and three of the shootings involved people with knives, like Woods.
The takeaway was that the department needed to proactively change its use of force. “Eight events do provide a basis for the consideration of a less lethal option,” the report found.
John Crudo, the sergeant for the department’s internal affairs unit who reviews all officer shooting incidents, said several policy changes were put into action following the report, among them crisis intervention training (CIT). It also trained commanders around de-escalation and called for a ban on shooting at moving cars.
Police Officer Association president Martin Halloran said in a recent letter that the department has become a model for its CIT program in particular and for its de-escalation techniques.
Since the study, Crudo said, the number of use-of-force incidents has declined from 1,002 in 2010 to 790 in 2014. Crudo said training, which instructs officers to move away from distressed suspects and wait, is one of the tools they have implemented.
What has not changed since then, said Crudo, is the average number of shootings involving police. An average of eight per year has been steady for the last five years.
Why that number has remained steady is unclear, said Crudo.
“It’s heartwrenching,” he said of police shootings. “I couldn’t tell” why their numbers have not changed, he added. While he has his theories — from changes in prosecution to more training and tools — none are based on data.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who has paid close attention to the issue, says the department has taken some important strides following the study. But it has a long way to go still.
“They haven’t done enough. Because these officers, by their actions, clearly were not trained to de-escalate the situation,” Adachi said. “The root of the problem is this: Wildly disproportionate force has become a routine way of dealing with noncompliance.”
Adachi said CIT training was a key move by the department. But because of funding issues, it wasn’t made mandatory until this year, so most officers in the department have not been trained with these skills.