SFPD may soon have a new anti-bias policy
The Rev. Amos Brown, with microphone, was not a passive moderator at Monday's youth violence town hall. Seated to his right are San Francisco then-Police Commander David Lazar (now a deputy chief) and Chief Bill Scott. Photo by Annie Berman.

The San Francisco Police Commission unanimously passed an anti-bias policy on Wednesday night in an effort to curb racial profiling and biased policing in the San Francisco Police Department. 

The anti-bias policy will now be pored over by the San Francisco Police Officers Association and will be up for a final vote at a later date. The commission vote was 5-0, with two unfilled commission seats. 

But as it stands, the anti-bias policy represents sweeping new changes. Notably, during stops — any time a person does not feel free to leave an officer’s presence — officers must identify themselves by name and rank, and state the reason the officer has stopped them, before asking for a person’s driver’s license and registration. In these instances, an officer must provide, in written form, the officer’s name, rank, star number, and information on how to file a complaint or commendation. 

The anti-bias policy “touches on every part of the work that the SFPD does,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju during public comment. He said he supported the policy, and that “rooting out and eliminating bias should and must be a top priority” for the police department. 

In recent years, the SFPD has been dogged by incidents of racial bias, including multiple racist texting scandals and recent accusations of “anti-black” sentiment among officers. Persistent statistics show rank-and-file officers disproportionately stop, search, and use force on people of color. 

The “Bias-Free Policing Policy,” which was last updated in 2011, was years in the making – a meticulous collaborative effort between community members, police officers, and criminal law experts in a working group formed in the wake of the US Department of Justice report released in October 2016 that found “numerous indicators of implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups” within the SFPD. 

“This was a herculean effort and we really dug in and drilled down and did a lot of good, impactful work,” said commission Vice President Damali Taylor who, with Commissioner Cindy Elias, served as an intermediary between civilians and police officers during the frequent working group meetings held at SFPD headquarters over the last year. “I want to thank everyone who is part of that process.” 

The policy also instructs officers to be cognizant of “bias by proxy” — meaning when a civilian racially profiles a person and calls the police as a result, as in the case of a lemonade store owner on Valencia Street in July 2018, who was mistaken for a burglar.  “Members should use their critical decision-making skills, drawing upon their training, to assess whether there is criminal conduct,” in these instances, according to the policy.

The policy also lays out training to effectively implement the policy, including education around bias, prejudices, the history of discriminatory policing practices, and the obligations of police officers in preventing and reporting instances of biased or racist behavior in the department. It would add to the SFPD’s existing bias training. 

It’s been a long time coming,” said Julie Traun, a member of the San Francisco Bar Association, during public comment. 

Traun has been a participant on the working group since it kicked off in 2017. Although she was happy with the policy, she said “scenario-based training” on implicit bias and racial profiling was missing from the policy. 

Many of us have attended a lot of the bias training with the police department,” she said. “And I think that having a partnership with the police department and including officers to make it relevant to other officers is very critical.” 

Nevertheless, Angela Jenkins, a community member who has also long participated in the working group, said she was happy with the language, especially around “bias by proxy,” that makes officers more aware of perpetuating the bias of civilians. 

“Racial profiling by proxy this way associates blacks with criminality and the mere thought of violent crime can lead us to shift our eyes away from a white face and toward a black face,” Jenkins said. “Therefore, the department bias-by-proxy policy is helpful to expose the hidden bias between neighbors and can help to mitigate this disturbing trend.”  

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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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  1. Sorry my point was this endless so called oversight and accountability in the name of social justice costs time, money and staffing the city soon won’t have, and the end result is a police dept that is paralyzed in carrying out its primary function, crime fighting and public safety.

  2. The only proactive police work going on in SF these days are being done by specialized units like the Gang Task Force, the Gun trafficking unit, and some of the District plain clothes units, the first units the powers that be will shut down when the covid-19 budget crunch kicks in. Good to know the 45 “officer” community affairs, recruitment, and DOJ reforms units are out and about on “positivity patrols” lecturing people about social distancing while small matters like a gang war in the South East part of the city is raging in the city and the new “San Francisco East” towns across the Bay. SF has stayed afloat for years with fat budgets and the tech boom, maybe the chickens are coming home to roost in the fallout of Covid-19 and the city can’t buy their way out anymore of problems that it’s never solved to begin with.

  3. What a joke. San Francisco will reap what it sows. The city prioritizes homeless and criminals over the tax paying citizens.

  4. What a huge joke to fight some imaginary bias. Cops go where the crime is. If it’s one flavor over the the other, too bad. Handcuffing and slowing down cops doing their job. Great idea. San Francisco will one day be populated solely by criminals and their advocates. Hmm, is that all bad?

  5. So long as cops have full latitude to roll their own work plans, full discretion to enforce what laws they want to when they want, to leave laws unenforced when and where they want, then we can do bias trainings all days long without solving the problem.

    Cops need firm civilian oversight so that our limited policing resources are deployed in the most cost effective ways to prevent violence and protect people’s stuff.

    1. Sounds great…protect “our stuff”. Unfortunately the DA doesn’t prosecute property crime. Unfortunately the majoritybof violent crime in SF is committed by a certain demographic.

      Unfortunately that’s just what the statistics show.

      1. No. You’re wrong. (So ironic that the “right”-wing that is- is ‘wrong’ so often! LMFAO!)
        Your quotes: “Unfortunately that’s just what the statistics show.” And: “Unfortunately the majoritybof violent crime in SF is committed by a certain demographic.”
        Oh boy. No. This is not even college level critical thinking here, but I’ll tell you what The statistics show, which will be in contrast to your overly simplistic interpretation and inaccurate conclusion(s).
        The stats will maybe show this
        More people of color HAVE BEEN ARRESTED FOR VIOLENT CRIME, and probably convicted as well. THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT THEY ARE COMMITTING MORE OF THOSE CRIMES. It ONLY means that they are arrested more.
        I’ve heard a lot of be regurgitated talking points spewed over the years by cops and cop lovers everywhere and specifically in the Bay area. The same old tired arguments and straw men come back again and again, recycled over and over. And refuted. so while the D.A. may not prosecute the amount of property crimes that the cops would like, maybe they should not be lazy donut eating bums and do the hard investigatory work to put together a quality Case, instead of a flimsy, garbage case that would never make it to trial anyway because the cops did not follow procedure and go by the law in collecting their evidence. Due diligence. It matters. see, that’s part of the problem is that the cops think they don’t have to play by the same rules that they are supposed to hold everybody else accountable to. It’s this blatant hypocrisy; the culture of thinking that they are above the law and can do anything they want that is the problem. That’s why as technology has made it harder and harder for them to lie and hide their corrupt, abusive behavior, people are starting to see the truth; it’s not just a few bad apples. If anything, it’s a few ‘good’ apples. And what I would propose is this: How good are these apples if they don’t tell on the bad apples? Silence is complicity.

        Do you know the history of cops in this city? I.e. stealing people’s drugs on video camera, lying on police reports, racist text messages were they said things like “white power”? These aren’t made up. These are facts. And they aren’t just a few bad apples.

        And please, please, learn a little more about stats. Just because more of a certain group is arrested for a certain crime does not mean more of them are actually doing that crime. It only means that they were arrested for it. Be careful not to make an appropriate interpretations or draught non factual conclusions based on your internal bias.

      2. Yo Billy, come on out to the Bayview where true crime is happening. Come roll around in the projects and check out what is really going on. Look at the shootings out here and check out the gang wars. Bet you have never heard of the 34 or tower side or so many other violent groups rolling around blasting others in broad daylight. Come save the homies college boy. Put the book down and put in some work.