Police Chief Bill Scott acknowledged at the Police Commission meeting Wednesday night the need for changes regarding racial bias within the SFPD, but failed to offer enough tangible solutions to satisfy his audience.
In a presentation titled “Solutions to Disparities in Policing,” Scott presented the San Francisco Police Department’s own data showing Black and Brown communities across the board face far higher rates of police stops, searches, and incidents involving use of force by an officer than other groups.
The disparities are clear. The “solutions,” not so much.
The data in Scott’s presentation showed that a Black person is more than six times as likely to be stopped and more than 11 times as likely to be searched as a white person in San Francisco, while a Hispanic person is more than three times as likely to be stopped and more than four times as likely to be searched.
Scott referred to the recent changes to a department policy that requires officers to articulate their reasons for making an arrest, and similar updates to the use of force policy that were made earlier this year.
These requirements are examples of “friction,” which serve “to make us slow down a little bit and think,” Scott said.
He added that the department is reviewing officer bias training and the instructions they’re given, such as when to pull over a car or how to approach sideshows.
However, commission vice president Cindy Elias pointed out that metrics for the success of these policy changes were not included, and the plans to “engage with the community” and “review the trends” were far from concrete.
In the ensuing discussion, which lasted more than an hour, members of the police commission expressed concerns with Scott’s assessment that these changes would eventually bring improvements over time.
“I got a little excited when you said it was going to identify solutions to the racial disparities that have plagued this department for a very, very long time,” said Commissioner John Hamasaki. “I guess I’m a little frustrated, because it sounded like a summary of things we’ve heard for the last three years or so.”
Elias also mentioned that acknowledgement of bias in the department isn’t enough when Department of Police Accountability records don’t show follow-up with disciplinary action for the use of bias.
“There seems to be a disconnect,” Elias said. “We’re seeing zeros in that [bias] category, which means that there haven’t been discipline charges.”
Scott replied that implicit bias is difficult to prove or find evidence for, but Elias was insistent that more critical analysis of officers’ behaviors is necessary.
One of seven recommendations in a report by the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) to SFPD was that supervisors should review all records of stops on a daily basis. Scott said currently supervisors only review aggregated stop data, and data flagged for inaccuracies.
He also mentioned that, as other policies are reviewed, like the lack of body cams used by plainclothes officers, further policy changes will be presented to the commission.
In preliminary reports of the first quarter of 2021, the rates of police searches in the Black community (versus those in the white community) rose, as compared to 2020. Although the use of force rate in the same demographic dropped between 2019 and 2020, there is next to no change this quarter.
Nonetheless, Scott, in slides with titles such as, “Trending towards improvement,” preferred to focus on where disparities in police interactions are improving, rather than dwelling on graphs with more irregularities.
“The disparity rates are still glaring and problematic, but some things are trending in the right direction. So that is a true statement that we are not going to apologize for,” Scott said.