Police Chief Bill Scott speaks to the Police Commission on June 2, 2021.

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.

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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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5 Comments

  1. We need a real police chief . Instead of hunting down made up racial bias, how about arresting the Criminals on the streets no matter WHAT RACE THEY ARE.? That is real racial justice…

  2. And how about keeping criminals Locked up and off our streets? Do you really think it is any kind of justice to keep releasing violent offenders who keep hurting citizens of ALL RACES? Look at the Video of your latest assault on the woman officer in Chinatown. How many times was that man put back out to hurt people? I do not care what color his skin is… look at what he did? You need to resign.

  3. In this article you write that the recent policy change “requires officers to articulate their reasoning for making an arrest…” and you link to the recent article by Julian Marks. This is incorrect, and highlights the widespread confusion between temporary detentions based upon reasonable suspicion and arrests based upon probable cause.

    When you write ” for making an arrest” here, you mean to write “for making a temporary detention.” In other words, getting stopped and sniffed and maybe searched. In California, police officers everywhere are always required to articulate their reasoning for making an arrest. It’s called an affidavit of probable cause for a felony, and is usually a few paragraphs for an initial magistrate to review. For custodial misdemeanor arrests the reasons are articulated in a report around the time of citation release.

    To quote from Julian’s article, “The policy [change] also says officers can detain individuals only when they can articulate facts that support a suspicion that a person was, or might be, involved in a crime. After a person is detained for a short period and let go, an officer must provide the person with a so-called “certificate of release” following the detention, which provides the officer’s name, star number, and where a person can file a commendation or complaint.”

    In educating the public about these issues, in order to provide helpful clarity rather than more confusion, it’s important that the writer understands and communicates clearly the differences between detentions and arrests and the standards for each.

  4. I think the bad officers among the police need to know that there are consequences to their actions. Beating up on people is gross professional misconduct and should have led to dismissal for a number of officers and to criminal charges. Time limits may be up for the criminal charges but I would like to see a review of ALL officers’ records and retroactive dismissals for those who should have been long gone. Even just a strong statement that this is now policy would be helpful, and no threat to legitimate officers trying to work the right way to protect the community.

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