The main entrance of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, pictured Aug. 31, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

The main entrance of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, pictured Aug. 31, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Enforcement of SF bench warrants rife with racial bias

With Donald Trump as president, our country can expect an embrace of racial profiling and “law-and-order” policing, which could set our criminal justice policies back decades. Unfortunately, the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association wants to hasten that backsliding — the union recently made a plea that more San Franciscans be jailed for not paying a traffic ticket.

The hubbub is about a recent recall of bench warrants at the San Francisco courts. The recall applied only to warrants that were issued when someone could not afford to pay or appear on a traffic/infraction ticket. The warrants were all for minor offenses, like jaywalking, littering or sitting on the sidewalk.

These are not, and should not be, reasons to incarcerate someone. Nor should people go to jail just because they cannot afford to pay a citation. That principle — that people should not be kept behind bars based on their inability to pay — is part of the reason the City Attorney recently decided not to defend a lawsuit that challenged incarcerating people who cannot afford bail. From a Department of Justice consent decree in Ferguson, Mo., to state policy here in California, there has been increasing awareness that punishing people who are too poor to pay is an unconstitutional waste of resources.

In San Francisco, enforcement of these warrants was rife with racial bias.

In the recent report “Stopped, Fined, Arrested: Racial Bias in Policing and Traffic Courts in California,” data showed that even though less than 6 percent of San Franciscans are black, 48.7 percent of arrests for a “failure to appear/pay” warrant were of black people. Black people were nearly nine times more likely to be arrested on exactly the type of minor warrant that the San Francisco courts just recalled.

For two decades, there has been an idea that if The City makes it criminal to sit, to sleep or to have a tent in public, then homeless people will go away. The City has tried that approach repeatedly, and the San Francisco Police Department is getting paid for it. Just last year, we spent $20.7 million on “quality-of-life” issues, most of it on policing. Our Budget Analyst reviewed the spending and found it an ineffective use of resources. It is cheaper to house a homeless person than to jail them, and housing actually gets the person off the street.

The Obama administration called it cruel and unusual to punish people for resting when they have nowhere else to go. Yet San Francisco has one shelter bed for every six homeless people and more than 800 people on the waiting list, and it still issues thousands of citations each year.

Elisa Della-Piana is the legal director for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Advocates with the San Francisco Public Bank Coalition hold a rally outside City Hall before the Board of Supervisors were to vote on a resolution supporting the creation of a public banking charter on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Should San Francisco run its own public bank? The debate returns

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum was building for San Francisco to… Continue reading

Apprenticeship instructor Mike Miller, center, demonstrates how to set up a theodolite, a hyper-sensitive angle measuring device, for apprentices Daniel Rivas, left, Ivan Aguilar, right, and Quetzalcoatl Orta, far right, at the Ironworkers Local Union 377 training center in Benicia on June 10, 2021. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters)
California’s affordable housing crisis: Are labor union requirements in the way?

By Manuela Tobias CalMatters California lawmakers introduced several bills this year that… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs, pictured at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017, is representing himself in an unusually public police misconduct matter. <ins>(Courtesy Bay City News)</ins>
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Most Read