At a neighborhood meeting in the Bayview last weekend, Police Chief Greg Suhr and his PowerPoint presentation were shouted off the stage.
Last night’s community meeting in the Mission was a dramatic contrast. Nearly a hundred residents sat politely in the auditorium of Cesar Chavez Elementary, waiting for their chance to comment on the SFPD’s plan to develop citywide community policing standards.
“It’s been long overdue,” said the chief of his proposal to include a community policing policy in the SFPD’s general orders. The general orders are the “rule books” that all officers are bound to follow.
To illustrate his point, Suhr had brought, as he so often does, a PowerPoint presentation.
Community policing, Suhr explained as bullet-point descriptions flashed on the screen, is an organizational strategy in which the police work collaboratively with the community to address violent crime, create safer communities, and preserve healthy and vibrant neighborhoods
Community policing has been practiced in San Francisco since the 1980s, but until now it has never been part of official SFPD policy. Every district has taken a different approach.
The Mission is, in many ways, an excellent example of community policing in action, said Suhr — largely due to the efforts of the neighborhood’s police captain, Greg Corrales.
“Captain Corrales is a softie,” Suhr said. He paused. “That was a joke.”
The citywide standards would codify practices already carried out in the Mission, such as assigning beat cops to a consistent geographic area for a long period of time so that they have time to get to know the people on those beats.
When the time for community input rolled around, it became clear that a few attendees felt that the Mission’s police officers still have a way to go in the likeablity department.
“Police need to be more approachable by the community,” complained one audience member. How would the new changes fix that?
“We will have charming, gregarious, engaged, chatty captains,” said Suhr.
But not everyone was satisfied. “What if they are not?” asked an audience member.
“Will they be held accountable?” asked another.
“Hey,” said Suhr, gesturing toward the PowerPoint. “It says right here that you can’t be a jerk officer.”
Once community policing standards are included in the general orders, Suhr said, officers will be held accountable for not following the best practices.
Suhr said the goal was to encourage officers to go the extra mile to make connections with the community. He gave an example: Years ago, he and some other officers were challenged to a game of basketball by a group of teens in a public park in the Western Addition.
“We took our bars and stars and put them in the trunk of our car,” Suhr said. “We won. We cheated and fouled, but they still remember it today.”
The meeting was over. “Thanks, this is awesome,” said one audience member.
“You just being available today makes a great difference. Thank you,” said another.
“This is definitely going better than last week,” said Suhr.