A year-long probe by the district attorney into the conduct of the San Francisco Police Department is now complete and its results paint a portrait of a department that disproportionately targets racial minorities and sorely lacks oversight. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability and Fairness in Law Enforcement was launched by former police chief and current DA George Gascón, prompted by the department scandal involving officers' racist text messages. Among its findings are that while just 5.8 percent of San Francisco residents are black, 15 percent of those people pulled over by police are black. By contrast, with 41 percent of the population of San Francisco being white, just 36 percent of the people pulled over by police officers at traffic stops are white. 20 of 51 victims of police shootings from January 2010 through July 2015 were African American, making up 40 percent of those deaths, and that number might even be higher as the races of 18 more people killed by police gunfire were not recorded by the department.
“Nationally, people would be surprised by this because we are such a wealthy and diverse city,” the New York Times quotes Joi Jackson-Morgan, the executive director of the 3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic in Bayview-Hunters Point “But there’s an explicit bias that directly impacts my community.”
Though preliminary information was available as early as May, the final findings of the panel are more detailed and include recommendations. For example, a new inspector general’s office to regularly audit the department should be created, and the Office of Citizen Complaints should be afforded more oversight.
The panel was composed of three volunteer former judges — Justice Cruz Reynoso (California Supreme Court), Judge LaDoris H. Cordell (Superior Court, Santa Clara County), and Judge Dickran M. Tevrizian, Jr. (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California) — who drew on public hearings, hundreds of interviews including dozens with current and former SFPD officers, public documents and nearly 4,000 police reports.
“Repairing trust between the SFPD and the communities it serves requires a department transparent enough for the public to hold it accountable,” a statement quotes Panel Executive Director Anand Subramanian. “The Panel’s findings and recommendations provide a roadmap to get closer to that goal.”
The department doesn't appear to have been completely cooperative during the probe, denying requests for information such as access to a copy of the training manual used at the police academy. "Without access to training materials or knowledgeable witnesses, the Panel is unable to evaluate the SFPD’s use-of-force training," the report reads.
As is true with added oversight for the Office of Citizen Complaints, approved by voters in June, some of the recommended reforms from the report are already in place. As the Chronicle observes, the report cites poor data collection and record-keeping, but efforts to improve them were in the works before today's results came in. Meanwhile, the department's practice are also being reviewed by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Perhaps predictably, this somewhat damning document has already rankled the Police Officer's Association. "The report is divisive at a time when San Francisco sorely needs unity between police officers and the community we serve,” union President Martin Halloran said in a statement. “On Thursday, a sniper in Dallas took aim at police officers and murdered five in cold blood. Today, George Gascón is taking aim at police officers in San Francisco with half-truths and distortions. We’re sitting on a tinderbox and Gascón is lighting a match.”
The POA, of course, was itself a target of the report: “The SFPD blurs the line between it and the POA, and allows the POA to take on an outsized role inside and outside the department, making it more difficult to address the issue of bias within the department,” the report reads. “The POA has historically taken positions resistant to reform and insisted that there is no widespread or inherent bias in the department. Because the department has consistently ceded the ground of discourse to the POA, theirs is the dominant law enforcement voice heard on this issue.”
The report was careful not to indict all SFPD officers. "Although this report examines some of the SFPD’s shortcomings and the areas in which the department can potentially improve, the Panel acknowledges the work of the many fine SFPD officers who do an excellent job every day, serving their communities with distinction, dignity, and respect," the report emphasizes. "This report does not seek to overlook, trivialize, or undermine their dedication, sacrifices, or hard work."