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The San Francisco Police Department shared an update on the department’s reform efforts during this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
The department has so far completed 253 of the 272 recommendations the U.S. Department of Justice made in 2016, according to police data. The 19 remaining changes are in the works, and Chief William Scott says six are to be completed this year.
“Awareness of the fact that we have a problem and accepting the fact that we have a problem is step one, and we’ve done that as an organization. Now we’re working to change the narrative on that,” Scott told the supervisors.
A slew of police shootings in 2015 and 2016 started the push for the department’s reform, according to police spokesman Matt Dorsey.
A few months after former Chief Greg Suhr resigned, the DOJ cited dozens of recommendations to change bias, community policing, the use of force, accountability and hiring practices.
Since then, the department has shifted its focus to what Scott calls a “guardian mentality.” De-escalation trainings, recruitment of diverse officers and stricter misconduct rules are some of the policies that have been implemented thus far, the department said.
A handful of recommendations regarding use of force, community policing and accountability remain.
Rooting out bias
Scott said the department is working to teach what bias by proxy is to prevent racial profiling. If someone calls the station based on their bias, the department will work to understand the situation in its entirety before acting.
“We’ve seen videos over and over that have gone viral, some person calling the police in their local city based on their own biases, and then also respond and make that situation worse by not handling it appropriately. We don’t want that to happen in our city,” Scott said.
Dorsey said that SFPD has turned from a “police reforming department to a police reform evangelizing department.” Since the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, the department has been a leading force in police reform since then as others agencies just begin to make changes, Dorsey added.
“Awareness of the fact that we have a problem and accepting the fact that we have a problem is step one, and we’ve done that as an organization. Now we’re working to change the narrative on that.”Chief William Scott
“I think we’re in a better place than a lot of sister law enforcement agencies just because of the work that Scott has been working on for years. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to do. We’re not taking a victory lap, we’re not there yet,” Dorsey said.
Social justice groups agree there is still more work to be done and question how much progress has been made. Members from the organization Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community used the public comment section of the meeting to express disappointment in the Board of Supervisors for not instilling “actual discipline and actual enforcing” for “officers who have the power of life and death in their hands.”
“Clearly, the reforms that have been put in place are not keeping people from dying, keeping people from being traumatized, and abused by police officers,” said one speaker.
“Despite the view that Chief Scott has presented tonight, there’s been no improvements in the racist policing and racist attitudes within the SFPD,” another speaker said. “The system continues to suffer outrageous disproportionate outcomes due to San Francisco’s racist policing.”
Disproportionate numbers improving
The group cited SFPD’s latest quarterly statistics showing that although the department has decreased its use of force incidents by 65 percent since 2016, 38 percent of those instances are still against Black residents, compared to 27 percent of cases against white ones.
Scott admitted that, though the numbers are still disproportionate, they are decreasing.
“It forces us to relook at what we do and be able to be adaptable and flexible enough to change directions on our policies and our protocols. That’s the beauty of reform and having an infrastructure to support that type of flexibility and adaptability,” Scott said.
Supervisor Myrna Melgar said that data and consultants can be insightful, but numbers cannot make up for the department’s history with residents. She wants to see long-lasting change come from within the Police Department.
“As we’re going into budget season, what I’d like to do is to make sure that the resources are used for that culture change, to increase the capacity of your folks, to get them to understand what they’re doing, and why, because it will make them better,” Melgar told Scott. “Not to farm out any of these activities so that you can just produce the numbers for us, because I don’t think that that’s particularly useful in the long run.”
Supervisor Shamann Walton said the city still has a long way to go to get to a trusting relationship between the police and the communities they serve.
“On this day, remember George Floyd, and see the hate that some people have for human beings, just because of the color of their skin,” Walton said.