Trio of Supes join call to oust police chief

Supervisors Jane Kim, David Campos and John Avalos Wednesday called for police Chief Greg Suhr to be replaced, becoming the first top-level San Francisco elected officials to do so after months of sustained calls from activists for his removal.

Kim issued a statement this morning urging Mayor Ed Lee and the San Francisco Police Commission to begin a search for:

“… a new chief who can implement fundamental reform. … Chief Greg Suhr has served San Francisco for over 30 years and we should thank him for that service. … But even he must acknowledge that leading a culture shift in that department would be easier and faster if there was new leadership there.”

Kim’s call came after months of protests triggered by recent police shootings, as well as by revelations of racist text messages exchanged among officers.

Most recently, protests last week and over the weekend centered around a group of hunger strikers calling for Suhr’s removal drew hundreds of people to City Hall.

Kim also cited the preliminary results of a blue ribbon panel convened by District Attorney George Gascon, released on Monday, which found problems in the Police Department in areas including oversight, accountability and data collection, disciplinary procedures and racial bias in policing.

Kim said:

“It is clear that we need a change to address these systemic problems and bring our city together.”

Campos and Avalos joined Kim’s call for Suhr’s removal later today.

Avalos said:

“After the public unrest and the revelations of the last week, I don’t have a lot of confidence in Chief Suhr’s ability and commitment to implement the substantive reforms that are needed in the Police Department. … The City should be in search mode for a new chief, especially with the rumor going around that the chief will resign once his pension can be passed on to his partner. … The City shouldn’t be caught flatfooted.”

Lee has said repeatedly that he will not ask Suhr to step down, but instead plans to focus on efforts to reform the department.

Lee and Suhr have announced reforms in recent months, including a review of use of force policies, improved officer training in areas including implicit racial bias, conflict de-escalation and crisis intervention, and programs urging officers to turn in other officers who use racially derogatory language.

The department is also working with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services on a review of department practices and policies.

On Tuesday, Lee announced $17.5 million in funding for improved police training and equipment, violence prevention programs and increased staffing for the Office of Citizen Complaints, which investigates officer misconduct cases.

Lee said today in response to Kim’s statement:

“The community has asked us to fast track change and not put politics before police reforms and, unfortunately, that is exactly what this does. … No other city is working faster or more deliberately on police reforms. Anyone, including the supervisor, who wants to work with us to advance these reforms and not impede and delay our efforts is welcome to join us in this important work.”

In response to Kim, Supervisor Mark Farrell stepped in to express support for Suhr, saying:

“… there has not been a more progressive police chief in San Francisco history. … There is no one better to lead our Police Department and implement the upcoming reforms than Chief Suhr himself.”

Farrell added, in a reference to Kim’s current run for a state Senate seat:

“Supervisor Kim is displaying election year politics at its worst, and it makes my stomach churn.”

The calls for Suhr’s removal came on the heels of yet another negative media report this week regarding a police officer who allegedly made statements with racial and sexual overtones. Police on Friday announced that the officer had been referred to the Police Commission with a recommendation for discipline up to possible termination.

However, civil rights attorney John Burris today cited the incident in a call for Suhr’s resignation and an independent investigation into the department by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

In a news conference outside San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, accompanied by members of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition, Burris said recently revealed racist statements made by officers in text messages or in person have occurred under Suhr’s watch.

Burris said:

“It defies common sense for us to accept the notion that he is the one to lead the charge in the reform effort.”

Burris also repeated calls for a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, saying the current COPS review “has no teeth.”

Lee said Monday that he asked the Department of Justice to investigate the fatal shooting by police of Mario Woods in the Bayview District in December, but was recently told that officials there are waiting on the results of local investigations before deciding whether to proceed.