A family friend of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr was given two second chances to become a police officer, in violation of department procedure, after failing his academy class and then his field training course before finally being fired, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.
Such treatment is not usually afforded other cadets who go through training to become police officers.
Jake Lawson, who was a police officer from January 2015 to June and a cadet from January 2014 to January 2015, denied that he got any special treatment or that he had any family ties with Suhr.
Both contentions were found to be untrue by the Examiner.
Lawson’s mother, Mary Lawson, said that her son played baseball with Suhr’s son and the two families are close.
“He is simply a family friend,” said Mary Lawson of Suhr. “It’s just a family connection … He was a family friend, he thinks very highly of my son.”
Suhr did not reply to several requests for comment. The department had no comment as personnel matters are not public.
Documents signed by Suhr and interviews with current police officers and former cadets reveal that Lawson did get two chances to pass the academy, as well as a second chance after failing out of the final training that police are required to complete.
Even though Lawson failed to pass the training and is no longer employed by the police department, he received special treatment in his attempts to join the force, which speak of possible nepotism on Suhr’s part.
Such second and third chances are not normal, according to officials and department manuals. But the chief’s office decides who gets a second chance in the academy, and Suhr signed off on Lawson’s extended field training.
“In my many years of training, I don’t know anybody that got a second chance,” said a former SFPD field trainer who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
According to a 2008 department assessment, field training extensions are rare but not without precedent. But in such cases, trainees are only afforded a month extension. Lawson was given a more than three-month extension.
“Based upon a determination that additional time and training would benefit the trainee and move him/her up to an acceptable level they will be granted this extension,” noted the department’s field training manual. “Following this extension will be a 2-week Evaluation Only Phase. If the trainee still has failed to reach the minimal acceptable level of performance, employment will be terminated.”
According to the department’s own manual, failure at the academy should result in
termination. Cadets are allowed to reapply, but must first wait an allotted amount of time. This did not happen in Lawson’s case.
Lawson wanted to be a cop. He applied to the San Francisco Police Department and was accepted. Then he made it through the trials required before entering the six monthlong police academy. In January 2014, he entered class 239, according to city employment records.
But Lawson failed out of his first academy class, he told the Examiner. He got a second chance immediately, although it is normal in such cases for people to wait for some time before reapplying. In May 2014, Lawson went right into the academy class that followed, he said.
“If your list is still active, you can still reapply,” he said.
This time he made it through the academy and graduated with the very next class.
According to the academy manual given to all cadets, “academic failure will result in termination of the recruit’s employment with the San Francisco Police Department. In cases of academic failure there will be no recommendation against future reemployment with The City.”
It is unclear how the department decides which cadets who fail are allowed to reapply. But academy Capt. Gregory Yee said the “decision to recycle a recruit doesn’t come from this office, it comes from downtown from the chief’s office.”
Following the academy, the final step for all police officers is a 17-week field training course that they must pass. For Lawson, that meant months working in the field with experienced officers.
In early 2015, Lawson was sent to Bayview Station and started his field training, which consists of working on the streets with three different field training officers on three different shifts.
But Lawson couldn’t hack police work and failed his training, an event that would end almost any new officer’s career, according to sources with knowledge of the department as well as department manuals.
Not so for Lawson. Instead he was transferred to another station to go through the field training again. That transfer order, dated March 28, 2015, was signed by Suhr. It was not the first time Suhr gave someone he knew an extension. In 2003, Suhr signed a memo giving Alex Fagan Jr., the son of a colleague, an extension in his probation even though Fagan had been embroiled in what has come to be known as Fajitagate.
In Lawson’s case, he failed his Central Station field training and was finally let go by the department.
“Approximately one-fourth of the new officers are given an additional (extended) rotation for various reasons. Of those who are extended, approximately 50 percent fail to pass field training and are discharged from the SFPD,” a 2008 department assessment said.
While some extensions are granted for one month, Lawson appears to have gotten the chance to restart the training.
Still, Lawson maintains he got no special treatment and said he does not know the Suhr family despite what the Examiner has learned.
“I did not get two chances at FTO,” said Lawson, referring to his field training. Instead he says he was transferred after his involvement in a shooting incident.
Such an incident would not have precipitated a transfer, say people with knowledge of the department, and no record of Lawson’s involvement in a shooting exists.
When asked if he knew Suhr, Lawson said he does not know him and has no family connection with the police chief. “I know who he is,” he said.
But according to Lawson’s mother, Mary Lawson, the two families go way back to their days at Saint Ignatius College Preparatory. My “husband and he were friends from SI,” she said about Suhr and her husband George Lawson.
Still, when asked if her son was extended favors by the chief, she said didn’t think so. “I think anything would be hogwash about anything concerning my son,” she said of any allegations of special treatment.
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