A settlement in a lawsuit against the San Francisco Police Department means mandatory changes will be made to the system the police use to provide reports to domestic violence survivors.
The settlement, announced on Monday, stemmed from a 2019 lawsuit accusing the SFPD of repeatedly withholding the police reports that domestic violence victims require to obtain restraining orders.
“Domestic violence survivors in San Francisco will no longer endure dangerous delays in accessing their incident reports and will be able to obtain restraining orders without unnecessary barriers in place,” Fawn Jade Korr, a Bay Area Legal Aid senior staff attorney, said in a statement.
The settlement, finalized in September, appears to be the conclusion of a saga that stretched on for years. More than three years ago, advocates with Bay Area Legal Aid notified the SFPD that the department was not providing incident reports to survivors within the time period they needed to file restraining orders — and the department was breaking the law in the process. A 1993 state law, Family Code 6228, requires police departments to provide the incident reports to survivors within five to 10 days.
SFPD’s withholding of the reports meant victims of domestic violence were unable to obtain restraining orders, placing them in danger of further abuse.
According to Korr, Chief Bill Scott pledged to fix the lapses, but they persisted, and advocates raised the issue publicly at a Police Commission meeting in January 2019. Although the police department and Police Commission responded by hosting several working groups to create better protocols for complying with the law, survivors continued to experience excessive delays in obtaining the documents, advocates said.
With no other option, Korr, on behalf of plaintiffs Lina Lu and Alexandra Anderson, filed suit in May of last year. The lawsuit alleged that Lu received only one of three documents she requested in March, 2018, to file for a restraining order. She was still waiting for the two other documents when she filed the lawsuit a year later.
The lawsuit alleged that Lu was not alone. “On information and belief,” the lawsuit stated, “SFPD provides survivors with incident reports in fewer than 25 percent of all cases where such a report is required.”
Now, per the settlement, the SFPD issued a directive that clearly defines compliance procedures for the law that mandates the timely release of reports to survivors. The department has also initiated training and now must report quarterly to the Police Commission on its compliance. The settlement resulted in $49,000 in attorney fees.
In a statement, Lu said she feels safer now, “just knowing the police department has to follow laws made to help people like me.”