Following a physical confrontation with a suspect, SFPD officers await paramedics.

‘Numbers don’t lie,’ concurs SFPD captain.


The San Francisco Police Department continues to disproportionately use force on black men, despite an overall 14-percent drop in use-of-force incidents in 2018 compared to the prior year.

“My issue is, why are the total uses of force against black males so high?” asked Police Commissioner Cindy Elias at Wednesday night’s commission meeting.

Elias was referring to the department’s most recent use-of-force stats, released in February, which cover the fourth quarter of 2018 and provide some year-end totals. The SFPD is required by local laws to report these numbers quarterly. 

Black men were on the receiving end of 35 percent of the use-of-force incidents from October to December of 2018, while white men accounted for 21 percent. The most recent Census data pegs San Francisco’s black population at 5.3 percent, while whites make up 47 percent of the city. Latinos make up 15.2 percent of the population and accounted for 20 percent of the use-of-force incidents.

The most common manner of force used against black men was officers pointing their guns, which occurred 127 times in the reporting period, compared to 50 times against white men. Officers pointed their guns at Latino men 72 times.  

“These numbers are disturbing and I want to know what the logical, reasonable explanation is for the numbers,” Elias said. “Numbers don’t lie.”

“Numbers don’t lie, I agree,” replied Captain Steven Ford of the Professional Standards and Principled Policing Bureau, a 3-year-old unit established to oversee the department’s Department of Justice Reforms.

“If you look at the numbers, I think they clearly illustrate a disparity at minimum,” he continued.

Ford, an African American, recently served as captain of the Bayview Station, which serves a large African American community.

While he agreed with Elias he also suggested that an analysis of the numbers could tell them more and offer some direction and answers. “At this juncture, in this form, I don’t have the answer.”

Ford said that definitive answers on the statistics require academic analysis, which is being undertaken by researchers at John Jay College. He said that analysis should be available in November.

Police Commissioner Cindy Elias questions Capt. Steven Ford on the SFPD’s disproportionate use of force on black men. March 6, 2019.

Elias, however, was not satisfied. “… what else are we doing to explain or find a solution that comports with 21st century policing and [the fact that] there’s a huge disparity in numbers when it comes to black males and the use of force?”

Ford said that officers undergo a “tremendous amount” of training that exposes them to different scenarios that “get them more sensitive … with persons of color.”

SFPD trainees take eight hours of “implicit bias” training, in addition to a four-hour “racial profiling” course, according to a recent SFPD academy syllabus. Furthermore, trainees do an eight-hour “principled policing” course and four hours of “Blue Courage,” a course designed to have officers approach their work as “guardians” as opposed to “warriors.”  

The entire SFPD training is 1,280 hours.

Regardless, throughout 2017 and 2018, the demographics of who was on the receiving end of police use-of-force remained largely unchanged. Black men accounted for 35 percent of all incidents, with white men and Latino men hovered at around 20 percent each.

Moreover, white police officers are using the most force. The SFPD is composed of 41 percent white male officers, and 18 percent of those officers used force at some point in the fourth quarter of 2018, the highest of any officer demographic.

Roughly 15 percent of male Asian officers used some kind of force, while some 13 percent of male Latino officers used force. Meanwhile, roughly 12 percent of male black officers used force.

“That’s concerning to me,” said Commissioner Petra DeJesus, adding “… because that’s also a lopsided number.”

“I agree,” Capt. Ford said.

Commission Vice President Damali Taylor quickly followed DeJesus. “As I think you recognize, this is a problem,” she said to Ford. Black people “are less than 6 percent of the population of this very small city and it cannot be — it is not — that we are committing all the crimes.”

She continued, “So the question is, as investigators, where is the Police Department looking?”

Taylor said she realized that there are a disproportionate number of calls to police on black men — 42 percent of calls for service were on black men, compared to 18.2 percent on white men.

“The question is: How do you respond?” she said. “And [when] the response is with a weapon drawn to such a degree when you’re dealing with black subjects as opposed to white subjects … that’s a problem.”

Read the full report here.

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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11 Comments

  1. I don’t see where the confusion is at all – as Taylor points out …”she realized that there are a disproportionate number of calls to police on black men — 42 percent of calls for service were on black men, compared to 18.2 percent on white men.”

    This corresponds almost exactly to the use of force numbers (in fact, it illustrates a LOWER rate of use of force on black men — 35/42 vs 18.2/21 of police calls by race / use of force by race).

    Unless one is being intentionally obtuse, the numbers make sense, and in fact show a higher rate of use of force by police call for whites. These commissioners may as well ask “why is use of force almost exclusively againstt men, when men only make up 50% of the population?” Asked like that the question sounds ridiculous, but both questions follow exactly the same logic.

    The more alarming question may be, why is a group that is 5.3% of the population comprising 42% of police calls?

    Most progressive newspapers have decided not to report the race of perpetrators of reported crimes so it’s diffucult for a lay-person to see the numbers, but a quick scan of crime logs reported on BerkeleySide.com, for example indicates that a disproportionate number of crimes are reportedly committed by African American males compared to their percentage of the population.

    The reasons for this are myriad, and can be clear to anyone not blinded but political bias- including history, economic and family status, cultural, and racism.

    The police are in the unenviable position of dealing with the fallout of larger societal issues — but In terms of the actual statistics, these commissioners are not being logical at all.

    1. Pat, the word “disproportionate” means something. You just injected your own bias in to the equation and you didn’t even recognize it. Do you REALLY believe 5% of the population is responsible for 40% of the crime, OR due to racism, they’re targeted more by police?

      1. Whose bias is showing? You completely missed the point of my comment. I didn’t say 5% of the population is responsible for 42% of the crime – I said “is responsible for 42% of the police calls,” quoting a fact stated by Taylor.

        1. For Heaven’s sake Den: We are a commuter city, including commuter criminals. Sadly, SFPD doesn’t keep stats on the residences of arreasties. Maybe they’ve been told not to. If they ever do, I suspect the % of African Americans arrested would be a lot less than 5%.

      2. Den, 5% of the population being involved in 40% of crime doesn’t sound unlikely, if disturbing.

        There’s a strong correlation with poverty and crime and there is a strong correlation between being black and poverty. A disproportionate amount of black people are poor.

        Is this untrue?

        Though I do agree that people are more likely to call the police on a black person than on a white person, there is still an actual greater likelihood of committing crime at this point.

      3. Den – 42% of police calls does not say to me that these African Americans are being targeted by police… rather it says they are being “targeted” by citizens who are making the calls. While some argue that higher minority contact with police is because police “target” minority neighborhoods, it’s difficult to parse out the reasons for this, as one of the major reasons police “target” these neighborhoods is because citizens find these neighborhoods to have higher crime rates and therefore they are calling the police. CITIZENS are CALLING the police.

        Now it would be an interesting statistic to know what the racial breakdown of police callers is. But I t’s no secret that black on black crime is a huge problem, and doubtful (anecdotally) that there are a bunch of whites people in black neighborhoods calling the police on black people. Having self-righteous progressives call for decreases policing of minority neighborhoods because there’s s higher percentage of arrests of minorities vs their percentage of the overall population really does a disservice to communities of color who are victims of these criminals and is frankly paternalistic and insulting.

        Captain Steven Ford’s insipid response to the question raised is honestly pathetic, and just shows how being Brie-beaten by the loudest shouting voices in the room only serves to remove any sense of logic in this he solutions to these problems. “Numbers don’t lie,” but dishonest interpretations of those numbers certainly do.

        As for the motivations of some members of the police commission, I get it… their perceived job is to constantly critique the police force. But they’re not helping their case any by twisting the statistics to the point where their arguments are nonsensical in order to fit a per-determined progressive political agenda.

  2. Looks like we’re gonna have to wait , on pins and needles, for the study to be completed before we can approach this subject in an objective and scientific manner.

  3. I agree with Billy Joe, can’t wait for that study to come out and settle this thing for once and all. No matter what the DA’s “Blue Ribbon” report and the DOJ “Collaborative” report said about institutional racism in the SFPD (and it’s home in the POA), we have to wait for another study to make sure what appears on its face to be racism, is not due to faulty reporting, or an inadequate sample size, etc. What would be far more interesting would do a study of the training programs Ford cites, some of which are relatively new. It seems as if some of your white officers could use a few more “guardian” hours. Do the white cops feel more “threatened” by young African-American males? And what are they taught with respect to pulling out their guns?

  4. Body cams will answer this. After they’ve been around for six months or do, check a random sample of 200 or so interactions and just watch. You’ll see who is compliant, and who is not.

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