On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice released its first report on the embattled San Francisco Police Department’s policies and practices. In its review, the DOJ highlighted racial disparities in traffic stops and searches and in fatal uses-of-force, as well as deficiencies in data collection and accountability, and outdated use-of-force policies.
The DOJ stepped in back in February (see above video) after requests for an independent investigation by former SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, SF Mayor Ed Lee, and other city officials following several controversial deadly uses-of-force, including the fatal shooting of Mario Woods, and two separate scandals involving racist and homophobic text messages sent between SFPD officers. (Here’s some backstory.)
Normally, when the feds intervene, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by forcing the re-training of officers and policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s demands.
But this time, the DOJ conducted the SFPD review via a Collaborative Reform Initiative run by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). This form of review, rather than forcing reforms upon an agency, makes recommendations and then leaves the rest up to city or county officials.
The report lists 94 key findings and an ambitious 272 recommendations for improving SFPD policing practices and transparency.
The DOJ found that most of those killed by SFPD officers (nine out of eleven shootings) were people of color. although across the board, there was not a significant correlation between race and the level of force used by officers.
The report also found that uses of force are not properly investigated by the department. Between 2013 and 2015, only one investigation into a deadly use-of-force out of nine total fatalities has been closed. “It is unacceptable for officer-involved shooting investigations to remain open for years,” the report reads. And files on officer-involved shootings were found to be incomplete and inconsistent.
In addition, the SFPD does not collect specific data on uses-of-force beyond what is written in regular incident report narratives. The DOJ recommends that the SFPD should create an electronic system for reporting use-of-force data.
“San Francisco has the second oldest police department in the nation and it shows,” said SFPD Interim Chief Toney Chaplin. “We are committed to the work that needs to be done to bring our systems into the 21st century.
The department is also missing specific “comprehensive” training on use-of-force, according to the report, which calls on the department to create training on de-escalation, sanctity of life, service-oriented interactions with the city’s homeless population, and more.
African American drivers were found to be 24% more likely to be stopped by SFPD cops than their representation in the driving population. And both black and Latino drivers were disproportionately searched during traffic stops, but were less likely to be found in possession of illegal substances or items.
The report also revealed a lack of transparency around officer discipline within the department. The DOJ called on the SFPD to “develop and report aggregate data regarding complaints against Department members, their outcome, and trends in complaints and misconduct for both internal and external publication.”
Despite the many areas in need of improvement within the SFPD, the report was not all bad. For example, the Justice Department praised the SFPD for engaging in “a range of successful activities, programs, and community partnerships that support community policing tenets.” The SFPD was also praised for holding town hall meetings after officer-involved shootings, and for expanding its Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for better police interactions and outcomes for people with mental illness. The report recommended that CIT-trained officers (27% of dept.) be distributed across all shifts and districts. CIT-trained cops should also be identified at the start of each shift, so that dispatchers can respond to calls about people suffering from mental health crises with the appropriate officers.
“I applaud the City of San Francisco for stepping forward to take a critical look at the policies and practices within the San Francisco Police Department,” said COPS Office Director Ronald Davis. “This report makes clear the significant challenges that lie ahead for the police department and the city.”
The COPS Office will continue to work with the SFPD for the next 18 months on implementing these recommendations. During that time, the COPS Office will release two more reports on the progress of the reform process.
“I’m proud to report that the San Francisco Police Department will accept and implement every, single recommendation,” said Mayor Lee. “We must restore trust, and these measures are important steps forward.”