The sidewalk in front of Mission police station is clear for the first time in two years. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

First, the good news. 

The gates around Mission Station, once envisioned as permanent, come down 

Police erected metal barricades around Mission Station two and a half years ago, in response to protests about the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. This summer, neighborhood Captain Gavin McEachern expressed interest in making the temporary gates a permanent fixture. 

The image of a permanent barricade surrounding the police station seemed counter to  the SFPD pledge to “a guardian mindset … rooted in empathy, understanding, and mutual respect.”

So, facing renewed community pressure, someone at the SFPD thought twice about this, and Chief Bill Scott announced at Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting that the Mission Station had been directed to remove the fences. 

Meet the new stats, same as the old stats

The San Francisco Police Department’s latest data, from the first quarter of 2022, shows that extreme racial disparities persist regarding how police stop, search and use force on civilians. 

Force is 15 times more likely to be used against Black San Franciscans than whites. Black residents are 10 times more likely to be arrested, and five times more likely to be stopped by police. 

These disparities are practically unchanged since the SFPD began reporting force and arrest disparities in 2016 and disparities in police stops in 2018. 

“The disparity is essentially unchanged in the past eight years, since DOJ COPS came in,” said the lone public commenter, David Aaronson, after the commission’s discussion. He was referring to the Department of Justice review in 2016 that recommended 272 reforms, which the department has been working to implement ever since. 

Catherine McGuire, head of SFPD’s Strategic Management Bureau, hurried through her slides on Wednesday evening, making only cursory comments on the glaring racial disparities. Throughout, she repeated platitudes like, “we really want to dig into this a little bit more.” 

McGuire repeatedly noted evidence of racial bias, but said the police department was headed in the “right direction.” For their part, police commissioners demanded explanations and further analysis of the data. The department could provide neither. 

“I’m sure you can sense my frustration, because I’ve been pounding on this since 2018,” said acting commission President Cindy Elias, who is currently the longest-sitting commissioner. 

Elias said she had not seen enough change during her four-year tenure on the commission, even though the SFPD’s “bias-free policing” policy passed two years ago. “And now we’re here in 2022, and I’m still not hearing what’s going to fix it,” said Elias. 

The Police Commission is currently in the process of holding various working groups with the SFPD, the Department of Police Accountability, and members of the community to update a traffic-stop policy that would reduce opportunities for police to make biased “pretext” stops to question or search civilians. Such stops can contribute to disproportionately high levels of arrests and uses of force among some demographics. 

Commissioner Kevin Benedicto said the department’s “stubbornly unchanging” numbers reinforced the importance of passing such a policy. 

Fencing surrounding Mission Station has been removed. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

Commissioner James Byrne noted that the SFPD’s total number of arrests, which dropped off in 2020, had never returned to pre-pandemic levels. This, he said, supported anecdotal rumors that the police are not arresting people committing crimes.

What’s more, Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone asked why the SFPD focused on enforcement of traffic rules that don’t pose public safety risks instead of more obviously dangerous driving violations. 

Chief Bill Scott disagreed with this assessment, but he pointed to a loss of staff in the traffic enforcement division and low department morale as possible explanations. 

After some discussion with no resolution, the secretary called the next item on the agenda. 

More delays in reforming the SFPD 

In its quarterly progress update on the 272 reform recommendations from the Department of Justice, the SFPD, in its Wednesday presentation, called for yet more time. 

Last summer, the police department provided an estimate of up to four years to implement its remaining reforms. While progress has been made within the past year, about six of the remaining 27 reforms are expected to take another four years to complete. 

Most of those recommendations involve data collection and analysis for arrests and use-of-force incidents. 

Mayor sends more help to DA 

According to a staff memo sent to the District Attorney’s office, former mayoral staffer Edward McCaffrey has been hired as the DA’s Chief of Communications and Policy. 

This is the same McCaffrey that ran London Breed’s mayoral campaign in 2018, and managed the state and federal legislative affairs for her office thereafter. 

McCaffrey has left the mayor’s office to join DA Jenkins’ team, DA’s office spokesperson Randy Quezada confirmed. This won’t quell reports that Mayor Breed has a heavy hand in the DA’s affairs. 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. I wish Mission Station well. God bless these hard working men and women. They have my support the next time there is a protest and half the city decides to rally at their station based on proximity alone. Even if the topic has nothing to do with their station they have to deal with the fallout. The station captain will say, “I told you so!” and we start at square one again. Viva Mission Station.

  2. What are those six items on the to-do list that are going to take 4 years to implement? Why four years? Why not two? Or ten? Four years is a relatively long time; long enough for most people, especially the SFPD brass, the DA, the Police Commission and especially the Mayor to forget all about it. Ten years later, when this is reported, the Police Commission will demand answers and the Mayor will appoint a new commission to study the six items and make a recommendation, which, after three years of deliberation, with input from experts and community working groups, will issue a report which will then be debated by the Board of Supervisors, voted on and a year later embraced by the Chief of Police who projects it will take four years to implement. Afterward, both the Chronicle and Fox News will hail it as another victory for progressives in San Francisco (or at least a step in the right/wrong direction).

  3. Doesn’t matter what your ethnic background. Comply peacefully and politely with police instructions and you have zero fear of force. BTW if you discount old white officers coasting to retirement in desk jobs isn’t SFPD majority minority now?

  4. I never see traffic cops doing anything except escort ‘dignitaries’, hang out at street corners to close traffic for fun runs like the SF marathon, and ride dirt bikes in the parks. I almost thought I saw a traffic stop on Bush Street, but alas, it was just a carjacking and the cops were regular beat types, not traffic guys.
    Is there any way to get any accountability or even work out of cops? The tools at hand clearly do nothing – just like the cops.