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.
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.