An online tool with the extremely cool name CopWatch lets you search on public records of officer complaints, but not much has been uploaded yet.
Back in the spring of 2019, the extremely Trumpian SF Police Officers Association sought a restraining order to prevent the release of police personnel files under the then-new transparency law SB 1421. They did not get that restraining order. And they’re sure to be pissed now that many of those personnel files are very easily findable for anyone on the internet, as the Chronicle reports the SF public defender Mano Raju has just launched a searchable database of police personnel records, including misconduct records.
It’s called CopWatch, which a pretty badass name. It’s on the Public Defender's Office website, and not to be confused with Copwatch.com, which is a more of a GeoCities-looking anarchist project started in Berkeley way back in the 1990s.
Of course the first thing SFist did was take it for a spin and what kind of dirt we could find. We searched on current police chief William Scott, and found nothing. Undaunted, we searched on his predecessor Toney Chaplin, and sure enough, we found record of his 2012 shooting of Oliver Barcenas (seen above). We then searched on the far more controversial Greg Suhr and found four results, but three of them were media reports about things already widely known.
OK, now let’s try a really notoriously dirty cop. Former sergeant Ian Furminger is possibly the most corrupt SF cop in modern times, and was eventually sent to federal prison. He was swept up in the 2015 racist text scandal, often beat the daylights out of suspects, and stole cash and drugs from his arrestees. None of this is in the database, even though all three were reported by SFist and every other media outlet in town. The database does list his two shootings of suspects back in the 1990s.
Only a fraction of records have been uploaded. “CopWatch SF contains only what the Public Defender’s office has received through public records requests, what we have found from other public sources, and what we have gathered ourselves,” the site explains. “The database is incomplete because many public records remain undisclosed or shielded from disclosure—either due to lack of prioritization by the disclosing agencies or because state law still prohibits their release.”
The Public Defender’s Office is probably understaffed right now, as the DA’s Office claims to be. It could be years until this database is anywhere near complete. But it’s up and running, and a cool tool, just not something you can rely on to get your case tossed should you or someone you love somehow face criminal charges.
Image: SFPD via Twitter