The SFPD brass, along with community members and policy makers, convened a meeting on Tuesday to come up with a policy statement concerning non-emergency police calls that could result in "bias by proxy."
The meeting comes over a year after the infamous "BBQ Becky" incident in Oakland, and a year after the very similar "Permit Patty" incident in San Francisco that happened only a month later. Both incidents involved white women calling the cops on people of color over frivolous infractions — in the case of "Patty," she was reporting on a little girl who was selling bottles of water on the sidewalk in June 2018.
Mission Local then reported on a July 2018 incident in which an African American shopkeeper, Vicktor Stevenson, who runs the gourmet lemonade stand Gourmonade at Valencia and 20th, was questioned by police one morning after a neighbor reported a possible break-in. He was able to show that he owned the shop, but the cops' questioning, asking for an idea, and keeping a hand on their weapons, suggested a potentially serious outcome for a man who was, literally, just opening up his lemonade shop for the day.
Most recently, a white man in San Francisco with his young son decided to call the cops on a black man simply because he was waiting in an apartment building vestibule for a friend.
Now, as Mission Local reports, the SFPD and its African American chief, Bill Scott, says that they want to avoid this "bias by proxy" — in which officer approach a situation that is not suspicious with suspicion based on the unsubstantiated claims of whoever made the call — when they can.
The statement guiding the new department policy, as hammered out yesterday, reads:
When officers respond to a call for service in which no criminal conduct or well-being check is indicated, an officer should make reasonable efforts to determine whether there is evidence of criminal activity after independently assessing the circumstances. If no suspicious behavior is found or observed, an officer should document their findings … and educated the reportee about distinguishing between criminal, non-criminal, and constitutionally protected.
Police Commission Vice President Damali Taylor reportedly said at the meeting, "It’s hard because we can’t discourage people from calling the police — and if someone makes a 911 call, law enforcement has to respond. What I think we’re trying to do here is build into the [policy] enough flexibility that if the call is complete B.S., officers can use their judgment and not make contact."
SFPD Commander Teresa Ewins pushed back a bit, suggesting that many of the people making calls about suspicious behavior to police are elderly, and they may report on cops if they seem them fail to respond adequately.
As Mission Local notes, others in the room said that people of color did not have suffer the psychological distress of unnecessary questioning by police if they "aren’t doing anything other than living in their own skin," and the onus should not always be on prioritizing the concerns of whoever made the call, if they were obviously wrong to do so.
The language of the policy statement still needs to be approved.