San Francisco's Police Commission hears data on arrests, stops, and use of force from the police chief on June 2, 2021.

Members of the public were given a platform at Wednesday night’s police commission meeting to offer solutions to glaring racial disparities in San Francisco Police Department’s approach to law enforcement. 

Several of the presentations, including the one from Department of Police Accountability, recommended the end of “pretext stops,” which allow police officers to stop a civilian for a minor infraction and use it as a pretext to find evidence of a more serious crime. 

Meanwhile, as the ideas were being presented at the virtual meeting, Police Chief Bill Scott could be seen speaking into his hand and even laughing, apparently carrying on separate conversations while his microphone was muted. 

One of the speakers, former SFPD bias trainer Dante King, called the chief out for his perceived lack of focus, encouraging Scott to tune in and eventually go back and rewatch the presentations. 

“I’ve been watching Chief Scott during this presentation and all of the presentations, and he seems like he’s engaged in other conversation, not necessarily listening and or present,” King said. “And it left me with the impression … well, why am I here?” 

Other presenters included the public defender’s office, former ACLU attorney John Crew, Officers for Justice, and grassroots organization Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community. 

John Alden, Executive Director of Oakland’s Community Police Review Agency, an organization similar to the Department of Police Accountability, spoke about changes already underway across the bridge. 

In addition to ending the practice of discretionary stops and searches by police, accountability was another theme of the evening, with speakers offering ideas on how to keep a close eye on offending officers and any concerning patterns of misconduct. 

Suggestions included monthly audits of officers’ stops, an outside inspector general to review bodycam footage and quantifiable goals and benchmarks for the commission to follow up on. 

Crew, a police practices expert, asked why the SFPD doesn’t proactively review officers’ social media activity to root out explicit bias and overt racism, a recommendation from the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory board report in January. 

A slide from the public defender’s office.

Speaking to Mission Local on Wednesday, Department of Police Accountability executive director Paul Henderson said he’d “like to see some action and/or response. … The first and most important recommendation that I have is an accountability loop that addresses all of this good information that comes to the department and ends up in a black hole.” 

He also referred to Oakland, where policy changes are already being made on “all the things that police drag their feet on and say they can’t do.” 

Some of the policies proposed Wednesday are already in effect in Oakland, and Alden, who worked in San Francisco before transferring to Oakland, spoke to the early stage successes

For example, Oakland officers are prohibited from asking about parole or probation status, a practice commonly used as a pretext to freely search someone without real reason to suspect wrongdoing. Enforcement of these searches was often racially biased, and often didn’t produce evidence of a crime. 

After Oakland’s policy change, Alden said overall searches decreased, and the frequency of searches actually leading to discovery of a crime increased. 

The police commission seemed receptive to the ideas presented both by San Francisco community members and by Alden, although concrete action has yet to be taken. 

“San Francisco has a rich history and is thought of as the bastion of progressivism, the bastion of liberalism, the bastion of acceptance and tolerance, fairness and equity,” said attorney Adanté Pointer, who spoke on behalf of Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community. “But when we shine the light on policing, we realize that it’s definitely fallen short.” 

Eleni Balakrishnan

Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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4 Comments

  1. While Chief Scott may be taking it a little easy at the helm of his ship, you are doing an excellent job continuing Julian’s hard work, Ms. Balakrishnan. An impressive seamless transition, both in tying up his unfinished projects (Broadmoor) and charging ahead with your own. Great work! Careful or you’ll end up at somewhere like The Guardian.

  2. The real problem in policing is gender related. The vast majority of police contact is with men. Men make about 90% of the prison population, but only about 50% of the general population.

    Gender equality is a huge problem and police need to stop focusing so many resources on men in order to provide more equitable arrest and conviction of women to correct the current bias.

  3. thank you so much for this important article, eleni.

    “Police Chief Bill Scott could be seen speaking into his hand and even laughing, apparently carrying on separate conversations…”

    clearly, chief scott cares nothing about righting the lingering stain and injustices of systemic racism. since Blacks make up less than 14% of the population but 34% of the total male prison population, we should avoid prosecuting Blacks and focus on imprisoning whites. our goal should be nothing less than lowering the % of Blacks on the for-profit prison system to less than 14%.

    these injustices must end!

    1. Are you some kind of a mental case? So the police should concentrate on arresting more white people to even things up a bit? What?? You do know why prisons are filled with blacks? Because they commit all the crimes…sorry, but that’s the truth

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