Mission District Police Station, June 2021
Mission District Police Station, June 2021. Photo by Lydia Chávez

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.  

Different types of “performance indicators” include uses of force and complaints made to the Department of Police Accountability. When an officer’s record has a certain number of “performance indicators” within a time period, an alert is generated.

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. 

Alerts are generated when an officer hits a threshold of a certain number of “performance indicators” in a certain timeframe. 6.5 additional alerts were generated by specialized units.

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. 

“An Improper Conduct (Sustained) finding means the DPA’s investigation proved that, more likely than not, an officer broke a rule or law.” From the DPA’s Annual report for 2020.

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. 

Total number of allegations made by district, compared to the number that were sustained by the Department of Police Accountability.

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. 

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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11 Comments

  1. 64% of the improper conduct by allegation type was “Neglect of Duty”. Can you please help define what that means? It sounds like people are complaining about police officers not busting criminals. Meaning, more people are asking cops to bust more folks vs complaining about their actions when they do.

    Or, am I reading this wrong? when 64% of people are complaining about “Neglect of Duty”, how is that defined?

  2. Do mission criminals resist arrested/ detention more than in other districts. To understand police data we also need to look at suspect data

  3. These are working cops. People don’t like going to jail for their crimes, people don’t like to get citations, some people fight the police, and some people resist. These stats are a reflection of cops doing work. I don’t expect my opinion to be published since this “news” outlet sensors free speech that doesn’t fit their agenda/narrative.

    1. Wacomb —

      You need to review the First Amendment. You don’t have an unmitigated right to say whatever you want to say on our website. We have First Amendment rights, too: And we may not want to publish comments we deem inappropriate.

      We do not filter out comments that don’t meet our “agenda/narrative.” We do filter out comments that are inflammatory, make ad-hominem attacks, add nothing to a discussion, spread misinformation, require fact-checking we don’t have time to do, or, for lack of better terms, are simply without redeeming value or just plain stupid.

      Your comments may have fallen into some of the preceding categories. Or all of them.

      Yours,

      JE

      1. Wow Joe. Did that “free speech” comment of his hit a nerve? Mission Local can can choose to publish or not publish a comment for any number of reasons, political or otherwise, without running afoul of the First Amendment. I am sure you know full well that the First Amendment is not implicated in a private organizations’ decision whether or not to publish a comment, but your reply seems to suggest that’s not the case. In fact, you seem to use the First Amendment as cover for this publications’ decisions about publishing or not publishing comments. It was truly bizarre in that respect. What gives?

        1. Hi Mitch — 

          Let me make it crystal clear: If your comment is stupid and without any redeeming value — and, in having it on our site, we look stupid — we see no need to publish it. You’re free to publish whatever you see fit on your site.

          JE

  4. Thanks to Mission Local for this article and for including the charts. Last year, I was attacked in SF and impressed by the responsiveness and courtesy of SFPD (Central). I had not interacted with police since my car was broken into 40 years ago and SFPD (Southern) had been waiting for me with suspect in hand. They were courteous then too. One of the chart shows SFPD (Airport) with 36 officers and 29 allegations. Before the pandemic I was frequently at SFO and have trouble imagining that any serious allegations could emanate from such a controlled environment–could the streets of San Francisco ever be so uneventful. I am curious about the nature of the allegations shown in these charts. One I could make against SFPD is the decibel level of their motorcycles, but would that count as allegations against specific officers who ride them or a black mark against the motor pool for not adhering to CCSF noise regulations? Thanks, again, for your work.

  5. I noticed all the bold black print was 100% negative. Where is the love for SFPD? It is everywhere but rather silent.

  6. SFPD, Cameras on. Everything else is POA spin or hearsay.
    I don’t think my 1966 traffic patrol rep Officer Meyer would recognize today’s SFPD any more than what they stop today. Different world in many respects.

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