SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — A report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice cites numerous indicators of implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups by members of the San Francisco Police Department.
The report also found the majority of deadly use of force incidents by the department involved persons of color.
Additionally, on traffic stops, African American drivers were disproportionately stopped and African American and Hispanic drivers were disproportionately searched and arrested compared to whites.
The findings were discussed at a news conference that included U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch, Mayor Ed Lee and Interim Police Chief Toney Chaplin.
Stretch said that after completing the review, it’s clear the San Francisco Police Department has tremendous work ahead of them to meet and exceed the national police standards.
“We asked for an unflinching assessment if the department on bias and use of force, and I think we got it,” said Police Commission President Suzy Loftus.
The assessment was broken down into five separate areas of the SFPD, including use of force and bias in policing methods.
Some of the key recommendations included:
- Improving the tracking of officers’ use of force
- Regularly checking officers’ electronic communication devices to determine whether they’re being used to communicate bias
- “Strongly consider” giving officers stun guns as an alternative to using lethal force
Ronald Davis of the Justice Department explained that there are significant deficiencies across the board.
While the report did not find proof of racial bias by its officers, it did conclude that African-American drivers are stopped more frequently than any other race and white drivers are the least likely to be searched.
“On one side, we found that the majority of daily use of force incidents did involve persons of color, 9 out of the 11,” said Davis. “We also found that the majority of uses of force in general — not the majority, but at least 34 percent — were also of people of color.”
Mayor Ed Lee said the conclusions were an eye opener.
“Some are painful to accept,” said Lee.
The mayor is already calling for an end to choke holds by police and firing at cars unless there is an immediate danger. Those are two new restrictions the powerful police union oppose.
“I say to the union, ‘Hey, let’s get with it, because you are an extension of the Department of Justice,'” said Lee.
The controversial call for San Francisco officers to be armed with Tasers will likely be met by continuing opposition.
“Before we start talking about Tasers, we need to talk about the reforms need to happen,” said Supervisor David Campos. “Because if the Tasers come in before the reforms, you could have a worse situation.”
Still there was at least one member of the police commission who voiced her agreement.
“Crunching the data, if their suggestion is Tasers are going to help us save lives, that’s very persuasive to me,” said Loftus.
City officials requested the review following the shooting death last year of Mario Woods, a young black man, and the discovery of homophobic and racist text messages exchanged between officers.
The review was done by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which promotes improvements to officers’ ties with communities. Its findings are not binding on the department.
The report prescribes 272 recommendations to help the department improve policies and practices and build community trust.
The federal office will work with San Francisco police over the next 18 months to help implement the recommendations and will provide two progress reports.
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The office is distinct from the department’s civil rights division, which investigated the Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland police departments last year, resulting in binding reforms detailed in legal settlements.
Police in San Francisco said Woods stabbed a stranger and then refused to drop a knife when approached by officers. Only one of the five officers involved in the shooting was white.
Woods’ shooting sparked protests and eventually led to the resignation of then-Police Chief Greg Suhr in May.
Suhr resigned only hours after the fatal police shooting in the Bayview that left an apparently unarmed 27-year-old female suspect dead.
The department has faced criticism from activists over other incidents leading up to Suhr’s resignation including the shooting death of Luis Gongora in the Mission District in April.
The fatal shooting of Alex Nieto in a Bernal Heights park in 2014 also spurred numerous protests and a federal civil trial where a jury exonerated the officers involved with the incident.
Earlier in the year, a judge ruled that Suhr had waited too long to discipline officers who he discovered had exchanged racist and homophobic text messages.
Suhr said he delayed discipline because he didn’t want to interfere with a federal corruption investigation into several officers.
The texts referred to a Latino man using a derogatory term and compared black people to “a pack of wild animals on the loose.”
The DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services conducted the review. Its findings are not binding on the department.
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