Activists who have been pushing for police reform from the Mission District said Tuesday they are waiting for the newly appointed police chief William Scott to prove himself.
Scott, a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, spearheaded reform efforts in the LAPD, according to the Chronicle. That, however, was not enough to win over local activists just yet – they want to see action.
Mayor Ed Lee appointed Scott Tuesday – surprise for many who expected interim Chief Toney Chaplin to take the seat.
“I’m very skeptical,” said Adriana Camarena, a writer and activist who has been pushing for use of force reform in the department and advocating for the families of several men shot by officers, including the homeless Mayan immigrant Luis Gongora Pat.
“This is the moment in which he makes political moves. Token moves for me will not be sufficient,” Camarena said. “If he wants to release from duty all of the officers involved in police shootings, that would be an important first step.”
Camarena also suggested that the chief could demonstrate his intention to make serious changes by initiating a task force on reform that includes members of the Board of Supervisors, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the Office of Citizen Complaints – and activists.
Benjamin Bac Sierra, who has been a vocal advocate for the family of Alex Nieto, killed by four police officers in 2014, agreed. “[His experience] doesn’t mean as much to me as bold action,” said
Bac Sierra said he would like to see Scott recommend that Officer Roger Morse be fired. Morse is one of the officers involved in Nieto’s shooting and now embroiled in an Office of Citizen Complaints case that emerged after he made some Facebook comments about Nieto.
Father Richard Smith of the Church of St. John on 15th Street, who has been leading weekly silent vigils protesting the killing of 21-year-old Amilcar Perez Lopez by police in February of last year, said he hopes for honesty from the new chief.
“I hope that this guy will tell us the truth, because that’s what’s been seriously lacking,” Smith said. “We’re just going to have to see what he does, particularly when there is misconduct, how does he respond?”
Smith and other activists advocating for criminal charges to be brought against the officers involved in shootings have already had conflicts with the interim chief over the removal of Perez Lopez’ body from the crime scene before the arrival of District Attorney investigators.
Although anxious to see, activists said Scott’s appointment has a few upsides.
For one, Scott has committed to live in San Francisco, a requirement that the Board of Supervisors recently adopted a non-binding resolution to require. Chaplin does not live in the city.
“He actually will be living in San Francisco and being part of the community,” said Oscar Salinas, who has also been very involved in activism around Nieto’s case. “Chaplin was living in Castro Valley. We feel it’s very important that he lives in San Francisco.”
Bac Sierra, on the other hand, was unmoved by that commitment.
“Living in San Francisco does not matter,” Bac Sierra said. “It’s a changed place, so living here does not matter that much to me.”
More convincing is Scott’s outsider status.
“Our first initial reaction was, it was very encouraging that Mayor Ed Lee did go with an external candidate,” said Salinas. “[It] brings somebody in with fresh eyes, that doesn’t have any relationship with any of the officers here in San Francisco, that he brings a lot of his open mindedness and also to be open to meeting with the coalitions.”
Bac Sierra, Camarena, and Smith agreed.
“For him to come from outside this entrenched corrupt department, I do think that can be a positive step forward, but it is simply not guaranteed,” Bac Sierra said.
Camarena, however, pointed out that it might be an obstacle for the new chief.
“I think institutional change happens very slowly. And he will have serious limitations being an outsider and also having to negotiate with the POA,” she said. “But let’s see what he does.”