Mission Station Captain M. Gavin McEachern addressed the handful of virtual attendees at Tuesday’s monthly community meeting about the SFPD’s new use-of-force policy, criticizing it as too expansive and cumbersome.
The policy discussion was timely, and came on the heels of the SFPD shooting and killing two homeless men fighting on the ground, as one held a knife over the other.
But instead of addressing public concerns about the shooting deaths or excessive force used by the SFPD, McEachern focused on the new use-of-force policy’s reporting requirements, which he said were bogging his officers down in paperwork, keeping them off the streets, and would result in inflated use-of-force numbers.
“We’re really having some growing pains,” McEachern said, and went on to complain of the time now spent reviewing officers’ body-worn cameras and conducting investigations under the new policy. “It’s a difficult policy to comply with, because I think it is pretty unrealistic as far as what it’s reporting.”
He speculated that all of his officers would show up in the SFPD’s early intervention alert system due to the lowered thresholds for what constitutes force.
Some major changes in the recent policy, which was overhauled over the past two years and finally adopted in early 2022, were in what types of force to document. Additional actions are now considered reportable uses of force, including an officer pulling out their weapon and getting it into a position known as “low ready,” with the gun pointed at the ground or away from a subject.
Physical holds and takedowns, previously only reported if they caused pain or injury, must now always be reported.
When comparing the month before the new policy went into effect and the month after, physical control holds and takedowns by Mission Station officers skyrocketed from just two incidents to 91. McEachern, instead of noting the frequency of force used by officers, expressed resentment that the new policy forces his officers to report these cases.
The data shows, however, that officers pointed their guns at people less frequently last month than before the new policy went into effect. Firearms in the “low ready” position jumped up, as this is a newly reportable category.
When presenting the new policy for adoption by the Police Commission early this year, Chief Bill Scott said the changes would improve the police department and provide a “more accurate view of when force is actually used.”
McEachern seemed to disagree with his boss’ assessment of the new changes. “We’re going to see an astronomical increase in reportable uses of force because the threshold has been lowered so much,” he said. “And I really think that’s very disingenuous of actually what’s happening. Our officers are really not doing anything differently. They’re just required to report things that they were never required to do before.”
Department of Police Accountability Policy Director Janelle Caywood told Mission Local that the broadening of reportable uses of force came in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. Caywood said her department is now investigating whether “the administrative burden of the new policy strikes the right balance between police accountability and the ability to protect the public.”
McEachern took over as acting captain of Mission Station last fall after the previous captain, Rachel Moran, was promoted to commander. He has since become the station’s permanent leader.
The captain did not discuss the recent fatal police shooting, except to note that it “tragically ended in the loss of life to two individuals.” He also said that the incident occurred in Bayview, although it took place at Mariposa and Owens, a stone’s throw from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and just down the road from Chase Center.
Questions from the community, meanwhile, did not address the shooting, and instead focused on homeless encampments and fires.