“If we can have less of them,” Chief Suhr said of police shootings in an exclusive sit-down with the Chronicle, “it’s a good thing for everybody.” And, as the Department of Justice carries on a review of his department announced in February, Suhr says he is the best equipped to institute its recommended reforms, which though they will not be mandatory, he plans to treat as "binding."
“There are a lot of things that are moving parts," Suhr said in the interview with the Chronicle's editorial board. He also invoked the three-judge Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability and Fairness which is examining the department. "I can’t honestly think of somebody else who could get it all done as quickly as I can get it done,” he said.
Others disagree with that sentiment. Jane Kim, who is one of four Supervisors now calling for the Chief to leave his post, said that: "Chief Greg Suhr has served San Francisco for over 30 years and we should thank him for that service... But even he must acknowledge that leading a culture shift in that department would be easier and faster if there was new leadership there. It is time to launch a search for a new chief who can implement fundamental reform."
Suhr insists that his department, though not without its problems, has been hard at work for some time. “To suggest that the department has been standing still for five years would be a little bit unfair,” he said. “The men and women in this department have been very smart and thoughtful in the way they do things. That said, there have been some that have been equally as dumb and thoughtless in the way they do things, and that tends to carry the day and the headlines and sully the rest of the officers.”
According to Suhr, the SFPD's priorities include new use-of-force policies and body-worn camera implementation. The Chief was also questioned about two police killings — the shooting of Mario Woods in the Bayview last December and that of Luis Gongora in the Mission in April.
Suhr admits being "shocked" by Mario Woods' shooting (officers fire on him perhaps as many as 27 times as he shuffled near them, visibly intoxicated, allegedly with a kitchen knife loosely at his side). Still, Suhr still defends his officers, and claims that Woods' death resulted in new changes to protocol: Officers are now instructed to fire once, at the pelvis rather than the chest, and then reassess the situation.
Gongora's killing, however, might call into question the department's progress in the several months between those shootings, when it comes to de-escalation. Gongora was shot within 30 seconds of officers' arrival. Suhr contests that his department has answered more than 20,000 mental health crisis calls in the past five years without resorting to the use of deadly force.
Returning to the Blue Ribbon Panel, which is the project of former police chief and current district attorney George Gascón, Chief Suhr couldn't help but get in a few digs. He referred to the frequent "yin and yang between police chiefs and district attorneys," and said that perhaps Gascon had some "leaver’s remorse" for the police chief job, adding "Certainly his strengths would be more as a police officer than as a prosecutor because he never did that before."