Photo by Lola M.Chavez

The San Francisco Police Department is still flouting the law and failing to release police reports in a timely manner to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, leaving them without the ability to obtain much-needed restraining orders and putting them in harm’s way.

That’s the charge leveled by survivor advocates. And, as a result, attorneys who represent these survivors are threatening to sue the department unless it properly follows the law. They have given the department until the end of the month to share a satisfactory policy and release reports on time.

This comes despite the department scrambling earlier this year to come into compliance with the law — California Family Code § 6228 — that mandates it disseminate the reports to survivors within five days, precisely because the need for restraining orders.

“These delays in providing these reports are only harming people,” said Fawn Jade Korr, a Bay Area Legal Aid attorney who has been pressuring the department to follow the law since last year.

She said the affected people are not only the survivors themselves but also their children.

The issue received a flurry of attention when Korr and other attorneys who represent survivors took the matter to the San Francisco Police Commission in January and threatened similar legal action. The commission subsequently formed a working group to craft a policy that would bring the SFPD in compliance with the 20-year-old law.

The working group came up with a draft policy in March.

Nonetheless, “We’re not really seeing a difference,” said Korr. “And that’s concerning.” Attorneys like herself and unrepresented survivors, she said, are still having a difficult time obtaining police reports for their restraining orders.

Korr and Bay Area Legal Aid are now giving the department an ultimatum, which was laid out in a comprehensive letter to City Attorney Dennis Herrera and SFPD Chief Bill Scott.  

“Unless we receive a copy of a reasonable implementation plan that comports with the language drafted by the working group, along with an acceptable method of oversight and reporting to accompany the plan by the close of business on Monday, April 29, 2019, we will file action in San Francisco Superior Court,” the letter, signed by Korr and attorney Jeanne Finberg, states.

David Stevenson, SFPD’s director of strategic communications, said that the department is in compliance with the law. “We will continue to work closely with survivor advocates to provide incident reports in a timely manner so that the department can be in full, documentable compliance with FC 6228,” he said.

He said the new policy is currently under review.

But Korr charges that she and other attorneys and advocates who represent survivors have been barred from reviewing the policy they were included in drafting.

“They refuse to allow us to see it,” Korr said. “The fact that we’re having this conversation in April 2019 is evidence enough negotiations have failed.”

The development is especially frustrating for Korr, who first raised this issue with the department in March of last year. The following June, the letter states, Scott — hoping to ward off a lawsuit from BayLegal — assured Korr and others that the department would implement policies around the law by the end of July 2018.

That did not happen, the letter charges. By the following September, BayLegal clients were still unable to obtain police reports. Furthermore, the letter states, “We attempted to communicate with SFPD about the status of their compliance efforts, but we were rebuked and met with silence.”

The letter stated that, despite the promised change in policy, “BayLegal has had to demand incident reports from top personnel before receiving them.”

“We are even more concerned that other advocates without a direct line to SFPD’s top personnel and unrepresented litigants are all left without any recourse,” the letter states.

Seventy percent of requests for reports through the law are from survivors without legal representation, the letter asserts, citing SFPD stats.

“There really is no excuse for a lack of compliance,” Korr said. “It needs to happen and it needs to happen now.”

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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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