Phelicia Jones of the Justice For Mario Woods Coalition, speaks at City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2019. Photo by Julian Mark

After three years, the San Francisco Police Department has completed 29 of the 272 reform recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice. That’s 11 percent. With nine-tenths of the work remaining, community members remain wary of the effort involved and note that, accordingly, they’re seeing few changes on the ground. 

“As a young black man in [Bayview-Hunters Point], encounters with police are extremely scary,” said 21-year-old Rome Jones at a Tuesday Board of Supervisors hearing on the department’s progress. 

“A traffic ticket could lead to the end of my life,” added Jones, who sits on the city’s Youth Commission. 

The hearing marked the first time in some two years’ time that the Board of Supervisors checked in on the SFPD reform effort. It has not progressed smoothly since October 2016, when the federal DOJ published its review of the department in response to multiple controversial police shootings and multiple scandals involving the exchange of racist, sexist, and homophobic text messages among officers. 

The U.S. Department of Justice in September 2017 suspended its involvement in the reform process under then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, leaving a six-month hiatus in which the department scrambled to find a new overseer and eventually began working with the state Department of Justice in February 2018. 

Since then, SFPD Chief Bill Scott told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the department has achieved “substantial compliance” on 11 percent, or 29, of the recommendations, with 170 still “in progress” and 73 caught in the back-and-forth of the review process. A report on the second of three phases of the process will be released sometime in December, and a final report is due in May 2020, when all the reforms should ostensibly be complete. 

Regarding the seemingly slow progress, Scott emphasized that the process is not only about “checking boxes.” 

“This is an all-inclusive, evolving process that takes time,” he continued.  

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The reforms cover improvements to the department’s use of force, community policing, bias, accountability, and recruitment and hiring. So far, the department has completed recommendations around incorporating de-escalation techniques, implicit bias training, and community policing measures such as an increase in foot patrols and the implementation of “community police advisory boards,” which take input from community members. 

Scott emphasized use-of-force has declined some 30 percent since the department began directing officers to use “time and distance” when dealing with people in crisis. Ninety-six percent of the department has received a 10-hour crisis intervention training, while 49 percent have received a 40-hour training. And the department has not had a police shooting in some 15 months, he said — something that “has not been done in recent memory.” 

“Officer-involved shootings is really what got us here,” he said, referring to the reform effort. “There were a lot of other things, but — frankly — officer-involved shooting is what got us here.” 

But Supervisor Hillary Ronen pressed Scott on why black and brown people in San Francisco are disproportionately affected by the department’s use of force. 

The chief told Ronen that use of force against African Americans has declined some 33 percent since 2016. But Scott said that was no excuse for why African Americans disproportionately have guns pointed at them, are struck with officers’ fists or other objects, or are subject to physical control — year after year. 

From April to June of this year, African Americans were on the receiving end of 40 percent of that kind of force, while Latinos were subject to 21 percent. Blacks make up roughly 5 percent of the city’s population, while Latinos comprise around 15 percent. 

Meanwhile, whites were on the receiving end of 26 percent of SFPD use-of-force, while whites comprise roughly 50 percent of the population. 

“The disparities are concerning,” Scott said, explaining the department is analyzing how to close that gap but has so far not found a concrete solution. 

A cavalcade of skeptical speakers lined up following Scott’s presentation to express their dismay at the pace of the reform effort. 

“For me, I’m still left wondering — where are the reforms?” said Father Richard Smith, an Episcopal priest in the Mission District and a police activist. He recounted a recent incident in which six officers barged into his church, St. John the Evangelist on 15th and Julian streets, with their guns drawn. He says officers hassled the largely Latinx congregation while they searched for a robbery suspect. 

“It makes wonder whether we have addressed the racism and cultural insensitivity that has scarred this department for many years,” Smith said. 

Adriana Camarena, a police accountability activist, said she participated in the working group aimed at the “community policing” reforms. “I sat there every meeting, and I would ask then Commander [David] Lazar … could you please tell us what is the result of the recommendation you’re making? And we never got an answer,” she said. “Over and over, I asked, what is the recommendation that you are making to the chief, and what is the chief deciding?” 

“There was never an answer,” Camarena said. “I quit that group the day after.” 

Phelicia Jones, who leads the Justice For Mario Woods Coalition, said that despite the reduction in use of force, “black San Franciscans do not matter in San Francisco.” 

Jones said she was troubled by the disparities regarding police treatment of minorities, particularly black citizens, and she had hoped to speak just a little longer at the lectern. She and the coalition had spent hours preparing for the hearing, she said. But her allotted two minutes had run out.  

As she continued to speak, she was escorted away by Sheriff’s Deputies. 

“You can’t continue to treat us like this,” she said.  

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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  1. No one can argue that no police shootings for 15 months isn’t a sign of improvement. But for SF Black people to have a real opportunity to be a equal part of civic life, police have to be on respectful terms with them with trust. I hope this is embraced by the community as actually moving toward that. I’m sure it will be tested and challenged by future events. I hope it becomes a trend.

  2. Campers,

    To reform the SFPD we must have a chief genuinely dedicated
    to reform and not under the thumb of the Mayor.

    Former Sheriff (for 32 years) Mike Hennessey told me once at
    Daly’s Dive that he thought the best answer was for San Francisco
    to go back to electing their Police Chief.

    Mike has a poster from way back in his collection.

    It is someone running for Police Chief of San Francisco.

    He said that when you had a number of people competing for
    the approval of the people?

    You can study their platforms and vote for the one whose
    ideas most closely match your own.

    “It might take you several cycles before you get one who does
    what they promised but when you get the right one they could
    serve for 30 years like I did.”

    I’d look for someone who agrees to 500 foot patrol officers.

    Plus, 50 ‘cop boxes’ (kobans … Feinstein actually made them
    install a few but Willie dumped em for the POA endorsement) …

    Boudin for DA!

    Preston in D-5!

    Bobby Coleman for SFUSD School Board!

    Mano Raju for Public Defender!

    Miyamoto for Sheriff!!

    Veteran TV journalist Sam Donaldson said
    yesterday on a news show:

    “I think that Trump is sick.
    I’d feel sorry for him but I’m
    not that good a person.”

    Go Warriors!


  3. I agree, opportunities for improvement by SFPD remain. It’s a very old organization (founded in 1849) with traditions and culture that is slow to change. Change is also an ongoing process. My best opportunity for observing police interactions with minorities is in the Tenderloin where I live. They are now fully staffed at their TL station and appear to be doing better. The Tenderloin itself, however, has its own safety challenges including a recent increase in homicides with three this month.

    It is important to note that use of force is down. The amount of time since the last officer involved shooting is more than a year and a half. It is even longer since the last mental health related officer involved shooting. This fact is especially notable considering that during this time, SFPD has encountered numerous suspects who were armed or holding weapons. All were successfully and safely taken into custody. That is remarkable. That is different than the way it was 5 or 10 years ago.

    Their CIT program, especially with its field tactics component, remains a model for other police departments for how to do it. In sum, much progress has been made, especially if one looks at SFPD response over the last 5 to 10 years.

  4. Reform is in progress. The stats and numbers don’t lie. For those of you (looking at you SF chihuahua) who have never worked in a real world setting with large organizations, you can’t change the culture and implementation of policies overnight. Especially when there is a police union involved. Scott is on the right track.

  5. I really feel like police reform should be a constant staple in police departments and there should always be a rotation of reform. Cuz the way they go about it now, we jump through hoops get department right and than it devolves into a curruptions, unnecessary police shootings (murder) and the community cant trust them anymore. Reform should always be going on. By the way…. Love how Pete Richards and Michael Moody got promoted instead of fired…. Moody literally still up to the same shit but with more power.

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