SFPD stations will hang Black Lives Matter posters
Protesters gather at Mission Station on Saturday, 5-30-20. Photo by Julian Mark

As thousands of people have taken to the streets of San Francisco to protest the killing of George Floyd and unfair, violent policing writ large, the San Francisco Police Department continues to plod along on a reform effort that, until this moment, seemed all but forgotten by the general public — and whose effects have gone little-noticed by those who matter most: low-income communities of color. 

To be sure, the SFPD has made progress in reducing news-grabbing police shootings. The only one in 2019 came in December 2019, with the Mission District shooting of Jamaica Hampton, who wielded a glass bottle at officers. Two officers shot Hampton collectively three times, resulting in his leg being amputated. The only shooting this year, so far, took place in the Tenderloin on April 21. An officer shot at a man who had allegedly brandished a knife at a residential hotel before purportedly advancing on officers. That officer missed and did not injure the suspect.  

During a Sunday press conference at 24th and Mission — and asked by Mission Local whether the SFPD was reforming quickly enough — Mayor London Breed noted the reduction in shootings and attributed it to the SFPD’s de-escalation and implicit bias trainings. Nevertheless, she recognized more work needs to be done.  

“Are we far enough?” she said. “No, we’re not far enough. But we’re going to get there.” 

Breed did not say exactly when the SFPD would get there, or what “there” even means. 

In fact, no one seems to know, and her most recent pair of appointees to the Police Commission were so lackluster that the full Board of Supervisors will consider them on Tuesday with a 2-1 recommendation from the Rules Committee to reject both

At present, the SFPD has officially completed 40 — or 15 percent — of the 272 reforms handed down by the U.S. Department of Justice in October 2016 in the wake of the Mario Woods shooting and multiple racist text messaging scandals, according to a recent report by the state Attorney General, which began overseeing the reform effort in 2018. 

“ … Cal DOJ is concerned that the SFPD’s progress is too slow,” wrote Nancy Beninati in a March 2020 letter to Chief Bill Scott, which accompanied the progress report. “The failure to implement a greater number of the recommendations is delaying the SFPD’s fulfillment of its promise to the community to get the work done.” 

Alleged gang members are detained in the Mission, 2018. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

Despite the lag, the SFPD has completed some important reforms. Roughly half of the department’s 2,300 officers are trained in crisis intervention techniques, which are used to de-escalate tense situations that could easily end in police brutality. Earlier, in December 2016, the department revised its use-of-force policy, which now emphasizes de-escalation and says “officers must strive to use the minimal amount of force necessary.” The policy inspired a law that changed the deadly use-of-force standard statewide. 

Since the policy was passed, the department’s use of force has dropped some 30 percent. But between December 2016 and now, there have been 15 police shootings, eight of them fatal. And, as a detailed account of a Mission District police shooting in March 2018 demonstrated, de-escalation is often not front-and-center in confrontations. 

Moreover, less than two weeks ago, the Police Commission passed a draft of an anti-bias policy mandating that officers 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. As it stands (the policy must still be reviewed and haggled over by the San Francisco Police Officers Association), the policy is sweeping and “touches on every part of the work that the SFPD does,” said Public Defender Mano Raju. 

Even implementing these changes was a years-long tug-of-war between the police and policy experts, and it is unclear how it will emerge from mediation. 

Yet regardless of the perceived strides and a decline in high-profile police shootings, the SFPD continues to struggle with day-to-day biased policing. Between January and March of 2020, African Americans comprised 23 percent of all stops and 39 percent of all searches, while making up 5 percent of the city’s population, according to a recent report. Black men were on the receiving end of 31 percent of the SFPD’s use of force. 

Meanwhile, in the same period, whites comprised 35 percent of stops and 29 percent of searches — yet represent 52 percent of San Francisco’s population. White men were on the receiving end of 20 percent of the SFPD’s use of force. 

Members of the SFPD continue to deny that the stark numbers necessarily mean the police force is biased. During a working group on the aforementioned bias policy on February 24, Commander Teresa Ewins, the white police officer tasked with overseeing the bias working group, argued other “variables” could be at play during a discussion on stop data. She gave an example that people in Bayview-Hunters Point, kept turning in front of trains. 

“So what did we do?” she said. “We sent people to do enforcement. Well, depending on the time of day, the numbers will go up in regards to citations for African Americans, because at certain times of the day, we have a group that … generations have been hanging out there — if you know Third Street at all — and so the numbers go up.” 

“So is that saying that we’re being biased?” she said, explaining the police were simply enforcing the law. 

That anecdote flies in the face of the SFPD’s own data. 

The denial of systemic bias continues all the way to the top. The implicit bias training that Breed mentioned was exposed as fraught when a Department of Human Resources implicit bias trainer told Chief Scott in an April 14, 2019, letter that he sensed “extreme” anti-black sentiment during the trainings with high-ranking officers. 

Instead of calling for a probe, as former Police Commission president Bob Hirsch did following the reporting of this letter by the San Francisco Examiner, Scott issued a letter to rank-and-file officers discrediting the allegations. 

“I do not believe this department is anti-black nor do I believe SFPD possesses extreme negative sentiment against anyone we serve,” he wrote on Feb. 13. Moreover, it was the exposure of the letter, not its contents, that seemed to anger him. 

“I am deeply disappointed that in this case, that safe space for our members was violated,” he said of the trainer’s letter. “We cannot allow this incident to undermine the intent and value of this training and the hard work we are doing.” 

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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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34 Comments

    1. SoMa Wally,

      God bless him and his family.

      I was a firefighter for 5 years long ago and as an Irishman, an expert at funerals.

      Why does it come so naturally to us?

      God Bless again,

      h.

  1. Please do be fair to the shootings you mention in paragraph 2.

    While I don’t want police shootings you and I know you are misrepresented both shootings.

    The mission shooting was after Hampton struck the officer in the head multiple times, charged at the passenger in the car. Yes they shot him after all of that and a short foot chase. Please edit it.

    Also, the tenderloin shooting was not how you wrote about it. The officer ran outside and away from the subject. He fell to the ground running away. The subject charged at him with a screwdriver. The officer shot and missed. The subject then ran away. Please be fair. We need to pass along real info so we can all be on a similar (not the exact same) page.

    Thank you.

    1. Clay — 

      There is no misrepresentation here. The shooting of Jamaica Hampton was the only police shooting in calendar 2019. The incident in the TL was the only shooting in calendar 2020.

      This is very clearly written.

      Yours,

      JE

      1. I’m talking about how the shootings actually went down , not simply the dates you did correctly state. But you did misrepresent how both happened. Please just acknowledge my first comment correctly grasps each incident. I can provide links if necessary. You owe it to all the readers. I read mission weekly. Please be fair.

        1. Clay — 

          The issue here isn’t whether the cops were in the right or in the wrong or “how the shootings went down.” The issue is whether a shooting took place, period, full stop.

          As a point in the San Francisco Police Department’s favor, it went many months without a shooting; the Hampton incident was the first shooting in a year and change. This wasn’t a measure of “good” shootings or “bad” shootings, but shootings, period.

          Nothing is misrepresented and you seem intent on taking this point and twisting it into something unrecognizable and irrelevant.

          Read the rest of the article, please.

          Best,

          JE

          1. It is ABSOLUTELY misrepresented Joe, and you have an obligation to fox it. You said, of the only shooting this year “An officer shot at a fleeing suspect, missed and did not injure him.“ Clay correctly described what happened. There is no controversy about this. It is clear from the body worn camera footage the SFPD promptly released. The officer was running away from the subject. The officer fell, regained his footing, and continued to back away from the subject, who was advancing towards him when the officer fired. If you care at all about your reputation as a journalist, if you have integrity, if you are committed to the truth, please fix this.

          2. Once again, this is not the point of this article, or even this section of the story, which notes how *few* police shootings have taken place of late in San Francisco. But, having reviewed the footage in question, I have changed it to a more fitting description.

            JE

          3. Thank you for acknowledging and editing the initial article you wrote. the Tenderloin shooting now more closely represents to mission readers how it went down. Thank you.

            However, I know im nagging but this is fundamentally what we all need. you owe it to us to be fair and write ethically what is known. and what is known is that in the mission shooting Hampton did not simply “yield” a bottle at officers. He attacked them first, and used a glass bottle to strike one officer in the head many times. in fact the officer had a small break in his skull. Hampton ran. they gave chase. he was then shot. SF released video of this shooting.

            i really enjoy mission local but the readers need to trust they are getting fair writting.

          4. Thank you Clay.

            “Wield” doesn’t mean just “carry” or “brandish.” It means “to hold *and use*.” That Hampton struck the officer is not in question.

            JE

          5. None at all…..except the part where the officer was assaulted and injured prior Hampton being shot…If the conduct of the SFPD is so poor, why the need to selectively present information to your readers? If “wield” as you put it is to both to have and use, and us poor readers are too stupid to grasp that, why write a story so misleading that it generates half the comments here calling Mission Local out on it?

          6. JC — 

            Giving oversize credence to three or four commenters repeatedly tagging a story would be silly. As is, frankly, working oneself into a lather about a section of this story that was … and this is key … giving props to the SFPD for how few shootings they have been involved in over the past two years.

            As for your alleged stupidity, you know more about that than me. I only know what you’ve revealed in the nearly two-dozen highly, highly intelligent comments you’ve left on this site.

            Best,

            JE

  2. How lazy, Julian. The department has been found substantially compliant with 61 recommendations, not 40. Granted that’s not 272 but do you even bother to fact check? Makes one question your credibility.

      1. Yes I’m very familiar with that report. March was three months ago, have you not bothered to check on recommendation status since then?

        1. Why don’t you send us the update, sir?

          The AG has not printed any news on the matter since the March 4 report.

          JE

      2. Well you don’t lack in your sarcasm skills, no question about that. Kind of refreshing to see a journalist defend his and his fellow reporters work.

    1. How lazy, Citizen. Do you even bother to fact check? Makes one question your credibility.

  3. After the protests/riots in the 1960s, the response was entirely to put “black faces in high places” (Cornell West). Scott and Breed stand at the end of that long failed gesture. Scott’s statement is gut wrenching. If he had any balls, he could have taken off his helmet, put down his shield and his gun, and joined the peaceful march. Or does he support police brutality? I guess it’s really irrelevant what he thinks. He acts like another pawn of the POA so who needs him?

  4. The author fails to provide any evidence that the denials of systemic bias are incorrect. He just asserts his opinions based on the numbers. But there is no particular reason to believe that crime is evenly committed by all races. The obvious bias of the reporter makes one doubt that anything is the story is correct.

    1. It’s too bad really. With the vacuum in SF for quality journalism at the local level, SF Local could really step up and step in to be the investigative, in depth reporting source the city needs. There are some great pieces here that make it clear that the talent and more importantly the sources are there, The bias and agenda driven stories set SF Local back to reach that level. I spent 30 years working for the City and County and I know a hundred people who would love to share some of the mind boggling stories of disfunction, ineptitude and outright criminal actions of people who work for, contract, advise, vend to and live in the city.

    2. Officer, Wilson if I may?

      I have 70 years of experience from the projects
      of St. Louis to …

      My grandchildren are black and brown.

      Not a white one in the litters.

      Couldn’t make me any happier.

      They give me credibility credit.

      My real value is my 50 plus years of working
      with high risk and outright gangster kids.

      Put basically, if you love em they’ll love you back.

      Times ten.

      I ended up with a Masters in Special Education from Clemson University.

      Ooooh, boy, I’m proud of that one.

      What was I saying?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhSKk-cvblc

      That’s from, ‘West Side Story’ …

      Ain’t America great?

      h.

  5. You rock Joe,

    These cops tip toe around you like puppies meeting
    their first adult porcupine.

    Two hard facts to consider while the POA goes thru their grammar book.

    First … the outer perimeter fence at the WH was breached a couple of
    nights ago and the President was moved to the ‘Safe’ room below.

    The last people that breached that perimeter were the British in 1812.

    Pay attention here, Campers.

    The crowd came up too fast and the Secret Service was unable to
    get he Donald off the grounds!

    That’s a pretty close call.

    Put more directly …

    We almost had a new President.

    Second is 3 police precincts being overrun in Minneapolis.

    Well, back to my own worn dictionary.

    They weren’t ‘overrun’.

    They were abandoned.

    And, burned down.

    How Third World.

    My conclusion is to quote my favorite Irish philosopher.

    That would be, ‘O’Toole’.

    While Murphy held that everything that could go wrong would go wrong …

    O’Toole held that Murphy was an optimist.

    Go Giants!

    h.

    1. Thanks, H.!

      And thanks for the donation, too. But this is Julian Mark’s story and I cannot claim the credit of his work.

      JE

      1. Joe,

        Didn’t mean to detract from Julian’s always fine work.

        The POA voices here didn’t go after Julian so much as after you.

        You have hell of a crew there and I enjoy just sitting back
        and watching and reading and listening.

        Peace, love and good health to your family and work crew.

        And, to the POA family when they do good work.

        Go Niners!

        h.

  6. Julian Mark, I can read your work usually without laughing out loud, but “wielding a glass bottle AT officers” really? SFPD continues to deny bias in it’s data? Like you and 99 percent of the so called journalists continue to deny demographic crime data that makes it perfectly clear as to why the stats are what they are. You should and can do better. Donating to Mission Local with this level of objectivity and balance?…..I think not.

    1. Jc,

      So, donate 20 bucks a month plus carry costs to SFPOA publication?

      My point is that even I w/a fixed income can walk the walk up to twenty buckaroos.

      Wait, I don’t so much ‘walk’ as ‘stumble’ the walk these days.

      These publications are all struggling.

      To paraphrase Churchill:

      “Never in history have so many owed so much to so few.”

      Whatcha think about Antifa having Trump in a Sadam-like sandhole ta other nite?

      ‘The Donald’ should spend rest of his term at Mara Lago.

      True, the bedbugs are a pain in the ass.

      But, they’re more benign than Trump’s inner-circle.

      Yes, you’re right.

      I’m old and unoccupied enough to enjoy this.

      Where are my Giants?

      And, aren’t you laughing your ass off that the Warriors
      didn’t even make the playoffs.

      Come to me first place choice in the draft!

      Come to the old fan drinking tequila and smoking pot
      in the corner.

      Go Warriors!

      h.

      1. The SFPOA is as agenda driven and biased as it should be, after all it’s reason it’s members pay their dues. I see your opinions on 48 Hills, and we both know they have the market cornered for biased and agenda driven stories. To their credit, and the credit here, Mission Local and 48 hills are the only people making a real effort to tell local SF stories. Since 48 Hills has the no pretense, wear it on their sleeves, down with system side of local stories pretty much staked out, Mission Local could be something more and attract even more city people who care about the many issues here.

        1. JC,

          I like smart people.

          There, I admitted it.

          I like people who have spent their entire lives of mastering a topic.

          There, I admitted it.

          I love it when they share their knowledge with me for free cause I’m poor.

          There, I admitted it.

          You simply will not find more people such as my personal heroes like that on SFGate.

          We’re a cluster of sailors shoes in the corner of the Richard E. Byrd after a big storm
          in the Mediterranean in 1965 I think.

          There aren’t that many of us amongst a truly amazing crowd of brains in SF who devote
          this much time to these definitely, ‘City-Centric’ issues and people.

          Loving it,

          h.

  7. I wonder if the staff here at Mission Local takes any notice that many of your readers are just as starved for local district and city news, in short supply with the Chronicle’s sad decline and the sporadic nature of the Examiner’s coverage, but could do without the obvious police bias consistently written here. I assume most, if not all of your readers are city residents, and know the SFPD can make itself look bad all by itself.

    1. JC,

      You want pure Mission news, go to ‘El Tecolote’.

      Al Saracevic runs the best Sports page I’ve ever seen.

      For perspective, when I was 13 years old the
      St. Louis Cardinals had Jack Buck and Joe Garagiola and Harry Carey
      in the same booth.

      Boy did it get drunk on both sides of the radio!

      I was puzzled at the Chron parting with Audrey Cooper with no real explanation.

      Hated it when she dumped the tabloid format of the ‘Insider’ but she’s been
      gold in overall small and large creative efforts that brought in the community.

      Hell, I even went to one of her events to see David Talbot.

      Then?

      She dumped him as too expensive.

      Maybe he can toss a piece or two to Mission Local.

      Tip of the arrow here is that there are lots of good free publications around.

      And, there are lots of good free publications who won’t be around if we
      don’t support them.

      So, I urge you to pick one and pay for it with the next round with the money
      you collect out of the coffee room at SFPOA marked: ‘Mission Local’.

      Go Giants!

      h.

      1. Your commitment to local journalism is to your credit sir, and you might shame me to collect from that coffee pot after all.

        1. JC,

          I formed a co-op based on coffee and cheapest
          soda at a Fire House in Webster Groves, Missouri
          in the early 70’s.

          We ended up buying things like radios and dart
          boards with the proceeds.

          Donate to whomever you feel most simpatico.

          They all need it.

          What’s a pro football game gonna look like sans fans in the stands?

          Basketball starts?

          Biggest change if they proceed naturally will be amplified sound of
          basketball hitting hardwood?

          Baseball?

          No real change.

          We fans have always been secondary to the TV contracts.

          Football?

          Same.

          Nevertheless, Go Giants and since Warriors are toast?

          Go …. ???

          Lakers?

          h.

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