SF MAYOR BOOTS EMBATTLED SFPD CHIEF AFTER FATAL SHOOTING
On Thursday, just a few short 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 progress we’ve made has been meaningful, but it hasn’t been fast enough—not for me, not for Greg, said Mayor Lee in a statement Thursday. “That’s why I have asked Chief Suhr for his resignation.”
The move follows months of protests over other controversial police shootings along with racist (and homophobic) text messages sent between officers. And then there has been the ongoing feud between Suhr and SF District Attorney George Gascón.
Last week, four out of eleven San Francisco Supervisors called for SF Police Chief Greg Suhr to be fired.
Earlier this month, five San Francisco protesters went on a hunger strike, calling for Suhr’s resignation, and decrying police brutality and the fatal shootings of Mario Woods, Alex Nieto, and other San Francisco residents of color.
Before Thursday’s fatal shooting of a reportedly unarmed 27-year-old black woman, officers were trying to remove from a stolen car, Mayor Lee said he was not planning on firing Suhr.
“I have previously expressed confidence in Chief Suhr because I know he agrees with and understands the need for reform,” Lee said. “Today I have arrived at a different conclusion to the question of how best to move forward.”
Citing the importance of improving trust between the department and community, Lee named 26-year department veteran Toney Chaplin as acting Chief of Police. “He’s established a record of commitment to the City’s diverse communities, serving at Mission and Taraval Stations, in the Gang Task Force, and running the Homicide division,” Lee said. “Toney has most recently helped establish our new Professional Standards and Principled Policing bureau, the arm of the department that focuses on accountability and transparency.”
LAPD UNION SUES DEPARTMENT, CHIEF, AND CITY OVER DISCIPLINE ISSUES
The Los Angeles Police Protective League-–the LAPD rank and file union—has filed a 57-page federal lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, the LAPD, and Chief Charlie Beck over the department’s discipline process.
The LAPPL says Chief Beck has had a “corrupt influence” over the three-member discipline panel—the Board of Rights—that handles the more serious discipline cases in which officers may be fired or given a long-term suspension. The police union’s lawsuit accuses Beck of pressuring the board members to find officers guilty.
Chief Beck appeared on KNX 1070, and argued that in over half of the Board of Rights discipline hearings, the panel did not follow his discipline recommendations to fire officers.
“In 26 of those 184 cases, the board found the officers not guilty. And in 67 of them, they found them guilty, but then applied a penalty that’s less than firing,” Beck said. “…If that’s a system that I’m corrupting, then I’m not doing a very good job of it.”
Beck continued, telling KNX he felt the lawsuit was a personal attack.
The lawsuit also calls for the Board of Rights—which is currently comprised of two LAPD officials and one civilian—to change to an all-civilian board. Having two high-ranking officials on the board is a violation of officers’ 14th Amendment right to due process, according to the lawsuit, because the officials “owe their rank to the chief.”
The LA Times’ James Queally and Kate Mather have more on the lawsuit and the issues it raises. Here’s a clip:
The union rejected that it was seeking more favorable outcomes by having more civilians on the boards. Craig Lally, the union president, said the disciplinary statistics raised by Beck were invalid because many officers reach settlements with the board, pleading guilty to lesser misconduct charges in fear that the command officers will fire them at Beck’s behest.
Lally alleged that Beck often will urge Board of Rights members to terminate officers involved in high-profile misconduct cases as a way of placating the public following controversial incidents.
He pointed to the firing of former LAPD Det. Frank Lyga, who was caught on tape making racially charged remarks about a prominent black civil rights attorney and insulting comments about a female LAPD captain. Lyga, who is white, also made insensitive comments about a black officer, Kevin Gaines, whom he fatally shot during a 1997 traffic dispute. Lyga was working in an undercover narcotics detail when he became involved in the argument with Gaines, who was off duty. Neither knew the other was a police officer.
Lally said that Lyga should not have been fired, but argued that his case was one of several in which Beck pushed for a termination in order to gain a public relations victory.
“They just think it’s easier for them to terminate the officer and basically wash their hands of it. … They can say that they’ve done something to fix the problem,” Lally said.
During a news conference, Lally said the union had nearly reached an agreement with the mayor and city attorney’s office this month to alter the disciplinary process and replace uniformed Board of Rights members with civilians.
But the deal fell apart, according to Lally, who said the city attorney’s office suggested the proposed changes might not be legal but did not explain why when asked by the union.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said the union was never in negotiations with his office. The union spoke with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, which may have requested advice from the city attorney, Wilcox said.
“While I cannot discuss advice we provided, L.A. voters adopted a clear and legally-sound charter provision prescribing the composition of the LAPD Board of Rights,” Wilcox said in an email. “Of course, policy leaders and voters could amend the charter to alter that provision as early as November.”
STUDY: WHILE STATES’ PRISON POPULATIONS ARE LOWER THAN IN 2010, THERE ARE MORE PEOPLE ACTUALLY GOING TO PRISON
Looking at national incarceration data, criminologist John Pfaff found that if you exclude California—which has significantly reduced its prison population via a federal court order—incarceration rates are actually rising, not declining.
Pfaff found that while sentences have gotten shorter, and the conversation about ending mass incarceration has grown louder, there were actually more people admitted into prison in 2014 than in 2010. Yes, overall prison population numbers dropped by 1.9% during that time frame, but that seems to have overshadowed the fact that more people were sent to prison—an increase of about 6,225 in state prison admissions (or 1.2%), excluding California.
“…Somehow this has completely fallen thru the cracks of our reform discussion. MORE ppl harmed by prison, but LESS visibly so,” Pfaff wrote in a series of tweets about his findings.
Pfaff says the data he compared “only emphasizes again how vitally important regulating prosecutors is, and how shocking it is that NO ONE is doing this.”
Vox’s German Lopez has more on the data. Here’s a clip:
…although fewer people are in prison on any given day, more people are still dealing with the terrible consequences of getting caught up in the justice system, particularly a criminal record that makes it harder to get a job, vote, get housing, and much more.
What’s worse, admissions into prison seem to be going up even as the country goes through a nationwide crime drop — and the research shows that mass incarceration has only played a small role, if any, in the crime drop over the past several years.
The research, drop in crime, and heavy financial and social costs of mass incarceration have pushed political leaders and activists from both parties to call for criminal justice reform. But Pfaff’s analysis shows that it’s not enough, as most reform has only focused on shortening prison sentences. The actors in the criminal justice system — especially prosecutors — also need to start sending fewer people to prison, especially for crimes that don’t warrant such a serious punishment. And if they aren’t willing to do it, maybe lawmakers and the public should take steps to force them to be less aggressive.
YET ANOTHER UNDER-THE-RADAR CALIFORNIA “TRAILER BILL” TO CONCEAL RECORDS WHEN KIDS ARE KILLED
A “trailer bill” attached to the latest California budget proposal would close off public access to records regarding the deaths of children involved in the child welfare system.
The bill, introduced by the California Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne would ease deadlines for releasing the child death records and keep social workers’ identities secret in such cases. Information on the family’s history within the child welfare system would be limited, and info provided by witnesses would be removed from the record.
A similar bill was tacked onto the May budget revision last year, too. By attaching the measure as a budget “trailer bill” the measure can skip review in committees and take a short cup to the vote.
According to state officials, the bill would protect the children and adults in the family who were not responsible for the death. Listening to proponents and opponents debate the issue at a hearing, State Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said “This is an item that has…impassioned support and heated opposition. Clearly it is not cooked enough.”
A vote on the bill is expected within the week.
The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the trailer bill. Here’s a clip:
Since the state implemented the law to increase transparency in 2008, reporters have accessed social worker case notes and other files that revealed inadequacies in the state’s child welfare system, including instances of social workers disregarding policies and allowing children to remain in conditions that proved fatal.
In response to news stories based on those reports, state and county officials implemented a battery of child protection reforms that child welfare advocates credit with reducing the number of children who die because of abuse and neglect.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles County prosecutors filed criminal charges against four social workers who handled the case of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in the months before he was tortured and killed. The case was first reported in The Times based on information that included documents released through the disclosure law.
The social workers union has staged protests against the criminal charges and worked with the administration to craft the bill that would reduce public scrutiny of the case files for child fatalities. The state child welfare directors association also supports the administration’s bill.
The bill currently under consideration would relax deadlines for the release of records and keep the names of social workers secret. It would deny the public access to original case notes, instead providing abbreviated summaries of how the government attempted to protect vulnerable children.