Activists, officials react to Greg Suhr resignation

San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr has resigned following today’s fatal officer-involved shooting in The City’s Bayview District, Mayor Ed Lee said Thursday.

Lee said in a news conference at City Hall late this afternoon that he asked for Suhr’s resignation after a 27-year-old woman in a stolen vehicle was shot and killed by a police sergeant this morning, the third fatal officer-involved shooting in San Francisco since December.

The mayor, who publicly supported Suhr following the previous two shootings, said “Today I have arrived at a different conclusion about how best to move forward.” Lee has appointed Toney Chaplin, former head of the department’s homicide detail, as interim chief and said he will work with the city’s Police Commission on a search for a new permanent chief.

Lee said the recent fatal police shootings, including those of Mario Woods in the Bayview in December and Luis Gongora in the Mission District in April, “have forced our city to open its eyes” about how officers use lethal force:

“This has never been about personality or politics, it’s been about performance.”

Work on reforms to the department following the shootings “were not fast enough, not for me and not for Greg,” Lee said.

The mayor said Suhr, who took over as chief in 2011 and has been with the Police Department for 33 years, is:

“… a true public servant and he’ll always have respect from me.”

Lee said Chaplin, the new interim chief, has served in the department for 26 years and has an “established record of commitment to the city’s diverse communities.” Chaplin before today was serving as deputy chief in charge of the department’s Professional Standards and Principled Policing Bureau.

Thursday’s shooting of an apparently unarmed woman occurred after officers spotted a stolen vehicle around 9:45 a.m. on Elmira Street in the Bayview District.

The officers attempted to make a traffic stop, but the driver attempted to drive away. She made it only a short distance away on before she crashed, striking a truck, according to police.

The officers got out of their vehicle and attempted to detain the woman. A witness told police that as the officers were trying to detain her, she was trying to drive the vehicle forward and backward.

One of the officers, a sergeant whose name has not yet been released, fired a single shot that struck the woman, who was taken to San Francisco General Hospital and died there.

The names of the woman and the sergeant who shot her have not yet been released.

Roughly 50 to 100 people gathered in front of City Hall this evening. The gathering was initially planned as a protest, but it turned into a celebration of Suhr’s resignation among activists.

Oscar Salinas of Justice for Alex Nieto said:

“It’s very exciting because we’ve been working two years on this, so this is party time right now. … But the work has just begun.”

Phelicia Jones of the Justice for Mario Woods coalition said:

“I am elated that he finally decided to resign. It’s a small victory, but a victory all the same. But we still have a lot of work to do. We have to change a culture.”

Jones was not optimistic about the appointment of Interim Chief Chaplin:

“An african American chief won’t help because the culture of the department is rooted in bias and racism.”

Supervisor Eric Mar said in a statement that he applauded Suhr’s resignation, but was troubled that the move had come after “yet another officer involved killing” of an African-American woman in San Francisco:

“This opens the door for the Police Commission to conduct a national search to select a chief that can challenge the culture of bigotry and racism in the department and rebuild trust with low income communities.”

Supervisor Jane Kim, who recently called for Suhr’s replacement, thanked him for 30 years of:

“… devoted service to the people of San Francisco. … Now, we have to unite as a city more than ever to effect the deep changes that we know are necessary to heal and make the city safer and stronger.”

Martin Halloran, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said Suhr’s tenure as chief would go down as one of the most successful in department history and called his “retirement under pressure” a loss to the department and The City:

“The POA looks forward to working with Acting Chief Toney Chaplin to continue Chief Suhr’s established programs and move the department forward. Acting Chief Chaplin is an experienced veteran of the SFPD and is more than capable of leading this fine department during this transition. … The POA offers its thanks and appreciation to Chief Greg Suhr for his honorable service as a native San Franciscan and a resident of this city. We wish him well in his retirement. He deserves it.”