After insisting for weeks that he would refuse to do so, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has resigned from his post, apparently at the behest of Mayor Ed Lee. The announcement came on Thursday afternoon, just hours after police shot and killed a 27-year-old woman in the Bayview.
Lee said Suhr would for now be replaced by Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin, the former head of the homicide division of the police department.
Protests calling for the chief’s resignation have mounted in the months since the fatal police shooting of Mario Woods in the Bayview, just blocks from the fatal shooting Thursday morning, and included a 17-day hunger strike at Mission Police Station and a hundreds-strong march to City Hall.
“The progress that we have made has been meaningful but it hasn’t been fast enough,” Lee said in his office on Thursday. “Not for me, and not for Greg. That’s why I have asked Chief Suhr for his resignation.”
BREAKING—Mayor Ed Lee announces resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr, to be replaced by homicide head Tony Chaplin. pic.twitter.com/bA4FaL0ECs
— Mission Local (@MLNow) May 19, 2016
Suhr’s interim replacement, Chaplin, has been with the department for 26 years. The announcement followed an hour-long wait by reporters outside of Lee’s office, where Lee and Suhr were meeting earlier in the day. Suhr exited the office through a backdoor, according to reporters, and did not answer any questions.
Outside City Hall, a group of some 30 activists gathered in anticipation of a vigil calling for the chief’s resignation — an event cut short by the sudden announcement. Maria Cristina Gutierrez, one of the five hunger strikers who fasted for 17 days to call for Suhr’s removal, said she was ecstatic about the news.
“The unity of the people did this, nothing else,” she said. “I feel so good.”
“It’s sad that it took two lives, but those lives are not in vain,” said Edwin Lindo, another hunger striker and a candidate for District 9 supervisor, referring to reports that the woman killed on Thursday may have been pregnant.
But union organizer and activist Phelicia Jones announced that she and others will demand a meeting with Chaplin and will keep the pressure on for reform and a culture shift.
“We have a victory, a small victory…but we still have work to do. Because we have to change a culture that exists in San Francisco Police Department.”
Lindo, too, said the push for reform would not ease up with the change in command.
“This shows the world that the power of the community is how you win. If anything, it shows that the momentum will keep growing.”
Yayne Abeba, a spokesperson for the Frisco Five hunger strikers, released a statement saying that the group also demanded a meeting with the new chief, and calling for Lee’s resignation as well.
“It is sad that it also took another life lost at the hands of SFPD,” she wrote. “We still stand firm that we demand the immediate resignation of Mayor Ed Lee, who allowed rampant police misconduct, terrorized the homeless and forced out the middle and lower income residents of our community to serve the interest of big business over the people of San Francisco.
In his statements, Lee made a direct connection to the police shooting in the Bayview earlier in the day, saying he had previously expressed confidence “in Suhr’s ability to enact police reforms in the department.” The shooting, Lee said, had changed his mind, and he decided to ask for Suhr’s resignation.
“Though the facts are still emerging, we know that this morning, a young woman of color was killed in an officer-involved shooting in the Bayview District,” he added. “This community is grieving, and I join them in that grief.”
“Following this morning’s officer-involved shooting and the meeting with Chief Suhr, I have come to a different conclusion about how to move forward,” he added.
Lee was flanked by Suzy Loftus, the president of the Police Commission, and Chaplin, who indicated last year at a panel discussion that he himself has had negative experiences with law enforcement.
— Ariel Dovas (@eviloars) May 20, 2016
When asked whether Lee would begin a nationwide search for another chief to serve after Chaplin, Lee said that was a conversation he would have with the Police Commission.
Four San Francisco supervisors called for the chief’s removal earlier this month, after a review panel released a scathing report calling the department out for racial bias and inappropriate hiring practices.
Supervisor Jane Kim, the first legislator to call for Suhr’s resignation, thanked him for his years of service in a statement.
“It’s time for the city to move on,” she said Thursday afternoon. “I would love to see a chief come from within the department, that would be my preference.”
Supervisor David Campos, the second supervisor to make the demand, also underscored the need for further reform. Unlike Kim, he called for a nationwide search for a suitable permanent replacement for Suhr, adding that while he had heard only positive feedback about Chaplin, the interim chief would have to prove himself in order to be in the running for a permanent position.
“The shooting was shocking and devastating, How many deaths does it take for something to happen?” Campos said. “I hope the mayor understands that it will take more than just his interim appointment” to change things, he said.
Campos also said he would be introducing legislation in the coming days to reduce the mayor’s influence over the Office of Citizen Complaints, though he did not give specifics.