‘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.