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.
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.”