The San Francisco Police Department is belatedly undertaking the process of correcting a lapse in procedure that advocates say has further imperiled victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The SFPD has been accused of long-term violations of a state law mandating police departments to release incident reports within five days to these victims, as well as victims of human trafficking, stalking and elder abuse. In many cases, advocates claim, the department has released these reports weeks or months late — and sometimes not at all — when victims need them in order to file restraining orders.
The situation grew so dire that victim advocates put the issue front and center at a December Police Commission meeting, going so far as to threaten to file suit against the city unless the police department got its act together.
On Thursday, following a pledge from Chief Bill Scott, the department officially began that process — although it’s unclear how long it will take for a policy to be finalized.
A 13-member panel, made up of SFPD officials, police commissioners and advocates, deliberated over how the police department’s compliance with California Family Code 6228 would look. Much of the conversation remained convivial, yet some differences emerged over whether victims would have to prove their identities and file a report in person, except when being represented by a verified attorney or an advocate.
SFPD officials expressed concern that, without in-person identification, the reports could be requested by alleged perpetrators and put victims in danger. Commissioner Damali Taylor, who, as a former federal prosecutor dealt with victims of related crimes, agreed — although she seemed to keep an open mind.
“We’re talking about the theoretical,” she said, “but for those who have practiced in the space for a long time — the theoretical happens.”
Advocates, meanwhile, argued that the in-person requirements could create “insurmountable” hurdles for survivors who live outside the city, adding that perpetrators eventually obtain the reports through the legal process anyway.
“They’re getting it when they’re served [or] 13 days later at the court hearing [or] as an exhibit — they’re getting it,” said Fawn Jade Koopman, a staff attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid. Koopman was among the advocates to threaten legal action at the Police Commission hearing on Dec. 12.
Koopman added that a former client of hers moved to Los Angeles County. The woman needed an incident report from Alameda County to use for continued therapy services for her daughter and was able to obtain it through the mail.
“So if this unrepresented person was required to fly back from L.A. to obtain a police report from Alameda so her child can get therapy — this is the kind of thing we’re talking about,” she said.
Several solutions were suggested — such as getting verified at another police agency closer to the victim’s home, or having a person verify their identity under the penalty of perjury. But nothing was settled on, and the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting has not been scheduled.
This debate only underscores the SFPD’s history of deficiencies in dealing with sexual assault cases. This was an issue brought to the fore during a Board of Supervisors meeting last April in which a multitude of women shared their negative experiences when dealing with SFPD investigators.
And there are other problems. Last week, the Department of Police Accountability handed the police department a long list of suggestions for how it can needs to improve its system for taking reports, which advocates have repeatedly said is flawed.