Mayor London Breed on Thursday announced a raft of reforms largely mimicking a reform effort that the San Francisco Police Department has been struggling with for three years. But she added one new element: the proposal to limit the police department’s response to non-criminal calls.
“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have gotten us to this moment,” Breed said during a Thursday morning panel that she hosted on police reform. “And so I want us to be very deliberate in our use of this advocacy, and this energy, in actually getting real change.”
Breed’s plan calls for an end to police responding to “non-criminal activity.” She said that over the next year, the city will work to create a “systematic response plan” that will connect community-based and city services to respond to crises, homeless, and other non-criminal calls for service. It also aims to reduce the need for “armed police interventions in schools.”
And, generally, Breed’s plan incorporates her pledge earlier this month to redirect funding from the San Francisco Police Department to African American community organizations.
Yet many of Breed’s other reform recommendations – especially regarding “addressing police bias and strengthening accountability” – have been on the table for years, and are among the 272 Department of Justice recommendations — of which only 60 have been completed.
Phelicia Jones, founder of Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods, said that Breed should pay attention to the 272 DOJ recommendations.
“That is the promise to San Francisco that was made over three years ago — to not only black residents but to all residents of San Francisco,” Jones said. “That was a promise that has to be done. But the police department is too slow. They need oversight.”
At the same time, Jones applauded Breed’s move to redirect money from the SFPD to the African American community, which she believes is in the most need. “The black community has suffered the most,” she said. “And it is still suffering.”
But some of the mayor’s recommendations — such as directing “the Department of Police Accountability to expand their focus beyond individual instances of misconduct, using the Department’s chartered authority to evaluate patterns and practice of bias within the SFPD” — are already taking place.
The Department of Police Accountability has been evaluating bias within the SFPD, has made continual recommendations, and that has often been met with resistance from police department officials.
“Overall it reads like the mayor of a city that is just starting a reform process rather than one that has [actively] been working on it,” said John Crew, a retired American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who has followed San Francisco police reform for decades.
“What we have is a statement — more promises — completely devoid of context that we’ve already been through this,” Crew said. “And that’s extremely discouraging.”
Indeed, the San Francisco Police Department is already in the middle of a reform effort that began with the 272 recommendations that the U.S. Department of Justice handed down in October 2016.
The state Department of Justice, which took over as overseer in 2018, blasted the department in early March for moving too slowly to implement those reforms. The DOJ reported then that the SFPD has completed a mere 40 of the reforms. Police Chief Bill Scott said on Thursday during the panel that the department has now completed around 60 of the reforms.
Many of the mayor’s recommendations ask the department to begin working on what it struggled to complete for years, such as “strengthening” the department’s “early intervention system,” a system that alerts higher-ups to problematic behavior. The department has knowingly used a flawed system for close to a year and yet it has not been changed.
Other measures the mayor announced — such as “improve data sharing across departments,” “improving training systems” and “identify and screen for indicators of bias” — were vague and announced without specifics, and most are covered in the DOJ’s report with targeted recommendations.
As of early March, the department had completed some six of the 17 anti-bias recommendations by the DOJ. The department has yet to complete the most substantive among them, such as addressing “practices in the organization that reflect explicit biases and intervene with firm, timely disciplinary responses.”
In May, the Police Commission did pass an initial draft of a “bias-free policing” policy,” which had been labored over for years by policy experts, community members, and police officials. It is now gone into a process called “meet and confer” with the San Francisco Police Officers Association — a process that can weaken reforms.
It’s unclear where Breed’s plan fits into any of what is already happening and how she will attempt to strengthen the efforts of many people – police officers among them – who are working on these reforms.
Breed’s so-called “roadmap” also wants to see the “SFPD and Police Commission … strengthen the affirmative duty to act policy and tie any violation to transparent disciplinary action.”
And yet, Breed very recently pushed for a more moderate Police Commission — which has the final say in officer discipline — nominating Geoffrey Gordon-Creed, who once represented police officers as a deputy city attorney, as well as Nancy Tung, a former San Francisco DA candidate who received a donation from the reactionary San Francisco Police Officers Association and ran as a “law and order” candidate.
The Board of Supervisors rejected Tung on Tuesday — Gordon-Creed withdrew when he realized he didn’t have the votes — calling on Breed to nominate candidates more well-versed in the language of reform. Breed has yet to make her new nominations.
Crew said that for Breed’s newly unveiled reforms to be meaningful, the mayor should first seek to understand why the department has not yet achieved the reform efforts it has been working to complete for three years.
And, knowing that it has taken years to complete a fraction of the DOJ reforms, the mayor should move quickly. “Put a deadline on it,” Crew said. If the department cannot meet those deadlines, the city should request independent federal oversight.
Correction, June 15, 2020: An earlier version of this article included a paragraph that incorrectly stated that Commissioners Damali Taylor and Dion-Jay Brookter voted in favor of a reducing the disciplinary sentence for Sgt. Erb. In fact, they merely voted in favor of the settlement agreement formulated with the Department of Police Accountability.
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