The Mission District stood out at Wednesday night’s Police Commission meeting, both for the number of complaints it receives and for the number of “at-risk” behaviors its officers engage in.
The Department of Police Accountability presented its annual report for 2020, and the San Francisco Police Department presented the first-quarter findings of its Early Intervention System, which identifies potentially problematic patterns or behaviors among members of the department.
When an officer’s record has a certain number of “performance indicators,” like use of force or Department of Police Accountability complaints, an alert is generated and forwarded to a sergeant. After review, alerts can then lead to an intervention, counseling, or performance improvement plans for the officers.
Overall, the SFPD’s data showed 15 to 30 percent decreases between the last quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 in the number of indicators, alerts, and complaints filed. The Mission, however, stuck out with about an 80 percent increase in alerts generated.
Mission Station officers registered 78 performance indicators and generated 24.5 alerts in the first quarter of 2021, far higher rates than any other district. Meanwhile, the Mission recorded comparable levels of violent crime to other districts.
In total, 65 officers (almost 3 percent of the department’s sworn officers) set off 90 alerts. However, none of these led to an intervention. Twenty-two alerts were administratively closed, one intervention remains open from a previous quarter, 44 officers have received “informal counseling,” 10 received “formal counseling,” and nine received performance improvement plans.
Beyond a breakdown of the numbers, however, the presentation didn’t provide much analysis or context regarding officers’ behaviors or their consequences. It’s unclear whether any early intervention practices have officially had an impact on this quarter’s overall decrease in alerts, although Capt. Mark Cota, who gave the presentation, gave his “word” that he has seen the program being effective.
Department of Accountability can’t get accountability
A lack of information and transparency from the SFPD was also emphasized by Department of Police Accountability director Paul Henderson as hindering progress on police reform. “What are the police revealing about discipline? The answer is: nothing,” Henderson told Mission Local on Wednesday. Recommendations from his department and other police reform experts made at police commission meetings often just “fall into a black hole,” he said.
“How is that acceptable in 2021, when [police] are literally asking the mayor, the commission, the community for more support for your budget, but a budget for what?” Henderson said. “We can’t measure accountability. We can’t measure the reform because [they’re] not telling us the things that we expect to be told.”
Henderson mentioned the “rigamarole” his department has to go through just to get body camera footage from the police, footage that the Department of Police Accountabiilty’s annual report said officers could do a better job of collecting in the first place.
Bodycams go unused
Failure by the officers to activate their body-mounted cameras was the most commonly sustained Department of Police Accountability finding of police misconduct. Other findings involved “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer,” such as harassment or inappropriate behavior or language, and “Unwarranted Action,” such as improper searches or detaining a person without cause.
And again, allegations of police misconduct coming from the Mission surpassed those in other areas of the city, with 303 allegations concerning 293 officers made during 2020. Citywide, 1,844 total new allegations were made in 2020.
The Department of Police Accountability, however, sustained a small fraction of these misconduct complaints: Only seven in the Mission, and only 45 total.
Even when sustained, consequences are minimal
Henderson said most allegations people make don’t hold up, because they’re not technically violations. He added that, because the Department of Police Accountability conducts independent investigations, San Francisco sustains more allegations than other municipalities.
Henderson’s Chief of Staff Sarah Hawkins, who presented the annual report at the police commission meeting, said that San Francisco Department of Police Accountability’s rate of sustained complaints is around 8 percent, while the national average sits around 6 percent.
And, as with the early intervention findings, which at the most, usually resulted in a casual, non-disciplinary conversation with officers, when it came to the Department of Police Accountability findings, Police Chief Bill Scott only agreed with about half of its conclusions, and declined to dole out any discipline more than 40 percent of the time.
In its Use of Force Data Audit from October, 2020, the Department of Police Accountability found that while the SFPD’s data collection is effective, the data is not adequately analyzed and is not presented transparently to the public. This results in missed opportunities to understand the issues and improve compliance.
Scott said during Wednesday’s meeting that the police department is in the process of purchasing new software which will allow for better analysis of the data it collects.
“I think we have some opportunities to really take … shortcomings with our current system and even the way we look at these cases, and really put together a better, more comprehensive process. So, it’s a good time for us. I know this has been a long time in the making,” Scott said.