a police chief sitting at a pubic meeting.
Police Chief Bill Scott at a community listening session. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan. Taken Sept. 23, 2022.

If the red-colored font and several “X” symbols on the report didn’t make it clear, the Department of Police Accountability spelled it out: The San Francisco Police Department’s reporting negligence allowed it to avoid discipline and accountability. 

The Department of Police Accountability, a city agency charged with investigating and holding the SFPD accountable, released an interim report last week that tried to answer whether the police effectively inform the public and the Police Commission about alleged officer misconduct. 

The verdict? According to the report’s findings: No. Absolutely not. 

The police department failed to report misconduct in a proper and timely fashion over the last three years, the report states. In fact, the police did not fully comply with any of the reporting requirements required by the city, hindering the police department and oversight body’s ability to discipline officers. 

“Without these reports, the Police Commission cannot fulfill its duty to address delays in discipline, or provide required information to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors,” the Department of Police Accountability report states.

“The SFPD is committed to transparency while maintaining and building trust with the community. We are in the process of creating an administrative structure to better address the recommendations put forth by the DPA,” the SFPD stated in an emailed comment to Mission Local Monday morning. 

The report comes at a time that police reformers have raised questions about the effectiveness of the Department of Police Accountability and the Police Commission. These government bodies had, in the past, blamed some of their inefficiencies on the SFPD, which withheld information needed to do their jobs, they have previously alleged. 

Last week’s misconduct audit is part of a multi-part, charter-mandated audit, which will be released piece by piece. The Department of Accountability executive director Paul Henderson designed the audit in parts purposefully, to facilitate “palatable” and “digestible” comprehension by the Police Commission and the public.

“Rather than issuing the big audits, I’m breaking it down by relevance and section to what’s going on right now, so there’s a clear indication what the mandates are and the
deficiencies are, so it’s palatable,” Henderson told Mission Local on Monday.

“Part of the problem has been in the past, how the department has responded to the DOJ recommendations. They say, ‘Oh, there’s so many. Ok, I got you. Let’s break this down. Here are mandates you can do tomorrow. And oh, here’s the citation for them,'” Henderson continued. “Here’s the proof you don’t do it. Proof.” 

The SFPD failed to notify the public when one of its Internal Affairs investigations opened or closed, for example, and it didn’t publish reports about complaints civilians made about officers, according to last week’s interim report. 

When the department did publish a misconduct report — such as Internal Affairs investigations — it did so late, and with much to be desired. The department is expected to write about alleged misconduct with details like, “the officers detained two citizens at gunpoint without justification,” or “the officers handcuffed civilians without justification.” 

Instead, the San Francisco Police Department opted for vague, terse descriptions: “Unwarranted action,” or “conduct unbecoming of an officer.”

This is an outright violation of a Police Commission Resolution 97-04, which is intended to provide transparency and clarity to the public regarding alleged misconduct cases. The agency suggested San Francisco police improve, perhaps by taking a page from the Virginia Beach Police Department, which publishes misconduct allegations while still protecting officers’ identities. 

Chief Bill Scott also dropped the ball, the agency stated. Though some Internal Affairs investigation reports were published, other cases where Scott had yet to weigh in remained absent. 

Scott must also decide whether to discipline an officer within 45 days. The deadline lapsed, however, in two-thirds of the 84 cases that the Department of Accountability Agency sent the department from 2019 to 2021. 

On top of that, the police department lacked reports about these disciplinary setbacks. The Department of Police Accountability report alleged that both the missing reports and Scott’s deferred actions hurt the Police Commission’s ability to question or move misconduct cases along. 

“The commission has the authority to enforce this, but has not done so, in part because SFPD did not provide the required monthly reports, the report stated.

The police department pointed fingers at the Police Commission, the report stated, and argued it was up to the Police Commission to schedule explanations about drawn-out cases. But the Department of Police Accountability defended the commission, stating “the Police Commission needs SFPD’s case status updates to identify these delayed cases.”

Ultimately, the chief of police must answer the public’s queries about the police force, the Department of Police Accountability report added. “Misconduct can damage relationships with members of the community and result in a loss of public trust,” the report states. “The Chief of Police is in the position to build public trust by taking responsibility for what has happened, and letting the community know the steps that the department will take to address the issue.”

The agency offered vague recommendations to improve the process, tapping the Police Commission to clearly define the necessary reporting standards and urging the police to ask the public what it seeks to know — on top of publishing its forms, as is required. 

However, the Department of Police Accountability can audit the police department about use-of-force and misconduct, which it promised to do at the end of last week’s report. It is unclear when that would be, though the interim report is one part of the overarching audit.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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3 Comments

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  1. As someone who had filed multiple DPA complaints based on my clients’ experiences, I can attest to the total lack of transparency, efficiency and accountability in the process. Considering that cops have unfettered power to destroy lives through use of force, false arrest, etc., they need a taste of their own medicine. Thanks for highlighting the issues surrounding police misconduct and the lack of consequences due to these institutional failures. The blue wall won’t fall till we take it down.

  2. Good article, thanks. Another for-the-files itemization of stuff that’s expected of the SFPD that keeps getting lackadaisical “commitment” from that department, and ineffective (toothless comes to mind) yammering “actions” on the part of oversight (??) groups unable to get the SFPD to do its job. Over 30 years worth of observing (I’m an old dawg) and I’m still bummed out for the general SF population’s hopes for a good public safety department, nowadays from a distance. I’m in and out of town often, so I do try to contribute to that parched little spring of hope.