What’s Next for the SFPD After Chief’s Removal, PBS Film Follows Former Third-Strikers, and Youth Poetry from Behind BarsMay 24th, 2016 by Taylor Walker
AFTER THE RESIGNATION OF SFPD CHIEF GREG SUHR, A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
Last Thursday, hours after San Francisco police officers shot and killed a woman during an arrest, SF Mayor Ed Lee announced the removal of SFPD Chief Greg Suhr.
The move follows ongoing protests over controversial police shootings, along with a couple of scandals involving racist and homophobic text messages sent between officers.
Mayor Lee named 26-year department veteran Toney Chaplin as acting Chief of Police. The decision was supported by both the NAACP and the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Chaplin helped develop the department’s new Professional Standards and Principled Policing Bureau, which focuses on community policing, and increasing transparency and accountability.
The new Acting Chief appears to not be wasting any time (see above video), and has a list of what reforms he believes will help turn the department around.
Chaplin says he wants to focus on getting officers equipped with body cams and updating two-decades-old policies on when and how officers use force.
“Re-engineering how we use force, when and where we use force, and in what situations we use force—that’s huge, and that’s going to be a big centerpiece of a lot of our reforms,” Chaplin said.
The AP’s Paul Elias has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
“Reforms, reforms, reforms,” acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin said Friday when asked about his priorities.
Chaplin, who is black, is a 26-year veteran of the department. Until Thursday, he was a deputy chief in charge of implementing Suhr’s reforms. Previously, Chaplin was a lieutenant in charge of homicide investigations.
The 47-year-old Oklahoma native says he intends to carry on with plans to equip officers with body cameras.
“It’s not going to solve everything, but it will give us another look at what’s happening, hopefully from the officer’s perspective,” Chaplin said.
He said he will also continue to push for several reforms aimed at cutting down on the number of officer shootings, such as giving suspects armed with knives “time and distance” to surrender rather than having officers pull their guns and shoot.
Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said Chaplin “is not going to skip a step” in implementing changes because of his position before he was appointed chief.
Chaplin’s appointment is on an interim basis. The commission is in charge of forwarding a short list of three candidates to the mayor.
CHAPLIN IS ONLY CHIEF ON AN INTERIM BASIS
Chaplin says he hasn’t yet thought about seeking a permanent position as chief.
In an interview with KQED’s Devin Katayama, SF Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus explains what the commission will look for as it conducts a national search for the next police chief.
DeJesus says the biggest concern will be the candidate’s ability to re-establish trust between the department and the community it serves. Here’s a clip from the interview:
KQED: You were part of the commissions that hired both police chiefs George Gascón and Greg Suhr. What lessons have you learned that will be applied to the next chief?
DeJesus: We need someone who can embrace the policies that we’re putting in place, embrace the body cameras. But we also need someone who can enforce changes in terms of changing that culture, rooting out people who make homophobic and racist comments. And how do we select our officers, going all the way down to the bottom process in terms of recruitment or training.
KQED: Is hiring the next police chief under these recent controversies make it harder for the commission to hire the best person for the job?
DeJesus: No. I think we owe it to the citizens to conduct a national search. I think we really need to find the best person for the job and not only someone who agrees with all the policy changes but that can actually implement the changes and get it done. And that means looking in house as well as looking outside.
Go read the rest.
A RANK AND FILE PERSPECTIVE
Vice’s Max Cherney spoke with a 20-year department veteran on the condition of anonymity about how the rank and file are responding to Suhr’s ousting (they are not pleased) and how they feel about the public perception of their department in light of the recent high-profile shootings and racist text messages. Here’s a clip:
VICE: Chief Greg Suhr resigned after the mayor asked him to. What’s going on there, and what are regular cops saying about it?
SFPD Officer: The rank and file are not pleased, particularly with the circumstances in which the chief was asked to resign. He was well-liked. He was honorable. I think everybody recognizes that this is a political move by the mayor because he was getting pressure from a small segment of the community and city officials. It’s unfortunate.
But the chief knew, as well as every single cop, that soon after the shooting Thursday we were going to have protests and the potential for riots. And the chief could have said, “No, I’m not resigning,” which is what a lot of cops said they wanted him to do. But he doesn’t fight it. He is an honorable man. He realizes that if he falls on this sword, he is going to help the city move forward. Plus, he’s going to be taking care of all the cops out there in riot gear, getting hit with anything from insults to beer bottles, and maybe worse. So he fell on the sword.
What about the racist text messages and claims that there’s a culture of racism in the SFPD?
I don’t believe, nor have I seen, anything that made me think that there is a culture of racism within this police department. On any given day, your coworkers come from all kinds of different ethnic backgrounds. These are the people that you work with, and in a job like being a police officer in San Francisco, these are the people you count on to have your back. These are your friends.
I will acknowledge that sometimes conversations can be wide open. It’s like how players talk shit to one another when they’re on their field. There is absolutely trash talk, and it’s a culture that I would call gallows humor. It’s humor much more harsh—because of the nature of the job— than I think mainstream individuals could necessarily understand. But we’ve been accused of having institutional biases and racist undertones. Come on, this San Francisco, are you kidding me? Who has time for that?
When I hear about text messages, the first thing you have to remember is these things are taken out of context. That gallows humor is a very hard thing to explain. But it’s not institutional racism. Having said that, I have read some of the text messages that have been made public. Some of them, yeah, I thought they were extremely distasteful. And this is from a cop with twenty years of experience. So maybe there are some individuals, because I can’t say across the board—I know it makes for a much better story in the media if you make it sound like we’re all a bunch of racist cops. We’re not. But the bottom line is that even if society doesn’t or can’t understand cop culture, we still shouldn’t be talking to one another or about one another like that.
Interestingly, the cop also says he and his fellow SF officers are worried that if Donald Trump becomes president, he will shut down sanctuary cities. If SF lost it’s sanctuary status, undocumented immigrants would likely no longer feel safe contacting the police. Or, if the city chose not to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the feds may yank much-needed funding.
We work in a sanctuary city. I think most cops believe that there are a lot of hard-working immigrants families in San Francisco, and sometimes they need the police. And we don’t want them to be afraid of calling the police. But if San Francisco doesn’t go along with the feds [and start enforcing national immigration policies], we’re afraid that they will pull a lot of money; it’s financial support not only for law enforcement but also for mental health and homelessness. That could be a big problem for San Francisco.
UNIQUE DOCUMENTARY CHRONICLES THE RE-ENTRY OF FORMER THIRD-STRIKE LIFERS IN CALIFORNIA
The Return—a PBS POV documentary about the men and women released from prison due to California’s 2012 three-strikes reform law—aired Monday night.
The PBS documentary follows former lifers Bilal Chatman and Kenneth Anderson and their loved-ones and attorneys as the two men re-enter their communities.
Since the 2012 passage of Prop. 36 (the Three Strikes Reform Act), thousands inmates serving life-sentences for low-level “third-strike” offenses have been resentenced and released in California.
“Many of those we interviewed came from families struggling with mental illness and drug addiction, said directors Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway. “Because African-Americans and Latinos receive disproportionately longer sentences than whites, most were people of color, people who needed support, not incarceration—people who were locked up due to bad policy based on fear, without any understanding of structural barriers they faced.”
The film won the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
MUST-LISTEN: KIDS IN JUVIE LOCK-UPS SHARE THEIR POETRY VIA PODCASTS
The non-profit Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS) put together a not-to-be-missed podcast that features poetry, discussions, and interviews with incarcerated kids at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, CA, and Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility in Logansport, IN.
The Words Unlocked podcast series was made in partnership with teachers at both facilities, who guided students through a writing curriculum and gave students a safe space to heal their trauma and process their emotions through poetry.
Here’s a poem from a girl locked up at LA County’s Las Padrinos Juvenile Hall.
And here’s a poem from one of the boys:
Listen to the rest of the poems, discussions, and workshops: here.