San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said the department is undergoing an ‘enormous transformation’ as it works through a series of reform recommendations. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

State DOJ finds San Francisco police ‘too slow’ to reform

A new report out Wednesday from the California Department of Justice reinforced concerns that the San Francisco Police Department is taking too long to reform itself.

Police have only finished 48 — or under 18 percent — of 272 recommendations for reform since the process began more than three years ago in October 2016, according to the department.

“Cal DOJ is concerned that SFPD’s progress is too slow,” Supervising Deputy Attorney General Nancy Beninati wrote in the report to Chief Bill Scott. “The failure to implement a greater number of the recommendations is delaying the SFPD’s fulfillment of its promise to the community to get this work done.”

While commending police for reducing homicides and use of force, Beninati flagged a recent article in the Examiner detailing allegations of anti-black bias as an issue.

The story revealed that a city worker who trained officers around bias for more than two years had emailed Scott about an “extreme” degree of anti-black sentiment in the department in April 2019.

”SFPD, of course, has a long way to go to address entrenched bias within the department and we will closely monitor its progress through the [reform] process,” Beninati wrote.

Beninati also noted that police still disproportionately use force against black and Latino suspects. Data from the last quarter of 2019 shows 39 percent of the suspects who officers used force against were black men, while 22 percent were Latino men.

“We are committed to continuing to work with you to address biased policing against communities of color, and strongly urge that you prioritize implementing related recommendations,” Beninati wrote.

The reform process started when former Police Chief Greg Suhr asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review the department in December 2015 amid turmoil over a series of controversial police shootings including the death of Mario Woods in the Bayview.

The review resulted in the 272 recommendations in areas including bias and use of force that the department agreed to implement with oversight from the federal government.

But after the Trump administration pulled support for the collaborative review process in September 2017, the state Department of Justice agreed to monitor the reforms in early 2018.

Under its agreement with the California DOJ, police were initially expected to complete the reforms through a three-phase process ending in May 2020. But that timeline has been pushed back to the end of 2020 so the department has more time to finish the reforms.

Beninati said the department must continue to work “with a greater sense of urgency” than before.

“There are many dedicated officers involved in this effort, but we are concerned that without significant movement in completing recommendations, these officers will become discouraged and ultimately disengage from the process,” Beninati wrote.

The lengthy report recommended changes to prevent further delays and outlined a number of problems that have hampered progress.

In one area, the state blamed the Department of Human Resources for blocking a proposed change that would have given officers a year instead of 180 days to report misconduct.

“DHR prevented SFPD from extending the internal time period for accepting complaints to one year in its policy, apparently concerned about the city of San Francisco’s potential liability at the cost of quashing legitimate complaints of discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” Beninati wrote.

The report did, however, commend the SFPD for its commitment to the process and gains in areas including bias. The report noted that Scott has proposed a groundbreaking policy change that would caution officers to avoid bias by proxy — or acting on biased information provided by a caller.

In a statement, Scott said the department is undergoing “an enormous transformation.”

“The technical assistance provided through this collaboration enables SFPD staff to address the many complex challenges associated with reform,” Scott said. “As we enter Phase III of the collaborative process, we are committed to identifying strategies that will help accelerate this work and solidify our extraordinary achievements.”

View the full report here.

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