In the days following the San Francisco Police Department's caught-on-video shooting of stabbing suspect Mario Woods, a lot of the discussion centered around what SFPD policies need to change to prevent fatal use of force against a suspect like Woods who, many say, posed little to no threat to officers. Within days, it was announced that police officers would start using shields to protect themselves from knife-wielding suspects, and on Friday SFPD tightened its rules around pointing a gun at a suspect. But there's one faction within the department that balks at both those changes: The San Francisco Police Officers Association.
Five days after Woods was shot by five SFPD officers (two of whom previously faced allegations of excessive force, I should note), Mayor Ed Lee announced at a press conference and by emailed statement that "Since last week, the Chief is equipping officers with protective shields, instituting significant changes to instruction for when and how officers use their firearms, and increasing mandatory, recurring training on de-escalation skills."
As of December 7, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr said that "right now" officers were being trained to use the 60 protective shields SFPD already owns, six of which will be distributed to each station. But that doesn't appear to be completely true, as according to a Matier & Ross report from Friday, "From the looks of things, however, the 60 shields are going to stay locked up for some time to come."
“I’m not going to let my members get exposed to bodily harm just because of political expediency,” POA President Martin Halloran told the Chron.
Saying that there are no current policies or training in place for the barriers' use, Halloran said that "there isn’t another police department in the U.S. that uses shields...Can you imagine an officer going up against a machete wielder with a shield and a baton?"
And it's not just shields that Halloran has an issue with. SF Mag reports this week that after SFPD released a departmental bulletin Friday (you can read it here) saying that when an officer points a firearm at a person, it's now considered "a reportable use of force" that requires officers to document their actions in an incident report, and "articulate the reasons for the pointing of a firearm."
This policy change, likely part of the "new training aimed at slowing down how quickly officers operating as a group go for their guns" Matier & Ross said Suhr was pushing last week, was also met with disdain by Halloran, who sent an angry letter to the chief on Saturday the 12th (you can read it here).
According to Halloran, he'd told Suhr as long ago as December 9 that the POA opposed this change of use of force policies, characterizing it as a "change in working conditions, for our members." That's when the POA asked that SFPD hold off on the new policy until the union and police brass could "meet and confer."
It looks like SFPD wasn't down with this demand, and released the policy change memo anyway. Hence Halloran's Saturday note, which announces that "The POA has not and will not forfeit its right to meet and confer regarding this matter or any other matter related to change of working conditions," and demanded that the new use of force police be suspended until "the meet and confer process has concluded."
As SF Mag notes, the POA's objections to these policy tweaks is a reminder to armchair commentators like you, me, or the folks writing beneath this article that any changes for the SFPD, in the wake of the Woods shooting or the countless other issues that have plagued the department (here's a sobering thought — there are so many recent SFPD scandals that by the time I got to July of this year, I was out of words to link to), will not come easy.
One change that the POA is all for, apparently, is the adoption of tasers. In conversation with Phil Matier over the weekend, Halloran blamed SFPD's lack of tasers on SF's Police Commission, saying that they could "save lives."
According to Halloran, the Police Commission "should call some emergency meetings, get [taser adoption] done on a fast pace, they should dust off some old policies that were presented to the Commission in the past, and move on it now." Sounds like that's one change in working conditions that Halloran can get behind.
Related: Campos On Mario Woods Shooting: 'We Need Fundamental Change Around De-Escalation'
Mayor: Video Of SFPD Officers Shooting Mario Woods 'Raised Questions'
Two SFPD Officers Who Shot Mario Woods Previously Faced Excessive-Force Lawsuits