A year-long investigation into racial bias in the San Francisco Police Department found the department needs reforms to provide greater transparency and oversight and rebuild trust with the community, according to a blue-ribbon panel report released Monday.
The report found evidence that police were more likely to search black and Hispanic people without consent than any other group, but less likely to find any contraband on them, according to Anand Subramanian, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability and Fairness in Law Enforcement.
“This is a red flag for potential racial bias.”
The panel also found that the department lacks oversight that could help uncover or correct racial bias. On an internal level, officer discipline appears to be weak and the department lacks staffing for data analysis or policy development.
At an external level there is no oversight body tasked with making sure the department adheres to its policies or that those policies are working, the report found.
“The stakes are too high for The City to not prioritize regular and robust oversight.”
The panel was convened by Gascón in May of last year following the revelation that 14 officers had been connected to racist and homophobic text messages uncovered during a criminal investigation of an officer.
Work was led by three retired judges from outside of San Francisco and conducted by eight teams of attorneys, all of them working on a pro-bono basis.
Retired Judge Ladoris Cordell, former Independent Police Auditor for San Jose, singled out the San Francisco Police Officers Association for what she said were efforts to prevent officers from speaking to the panel and its insistence that any racism reflects isolated incidents and not a problem with the larger culture of the department.
“The findings of this report show that for all practical purposes the San Francisco Police Department is really run by the POA. … The POA leadership sets the tone for the police department and historically it’s been an ugly one.”
Police union President Martin Halloran, in turn, slammed the panel as a biased “kangaroo court” selected by District Attorney George Gascón, with whom the union has clashed in the past.
Halloran called the report:
“… divisive at a time when San Francisco sorely needs unity between police officers and the community we serve. … On Thursday, a sniper in Dallas took aim at police officers and murdered five in cold blood. … Today, George Gascón is taking aim at police officers in San Francisco with half-truths and distortions.”
Panel member and former federal Judge Dickran Tevrizian said he found the union’s response:
“… very, very offensive.”
Tevrizian noted that the nation is in a “healing process,” but that both first responders and community members need to “temper their feelings” and words for that process to take place:
“The recommendations that we made in this report are not rocket science, it’s just good police practice, and so I get offended when the Police Officers Association buries its head in the sand and won’t even pay any attention to the recommendations that are contained in this report.”
Complicating the panel’s task in many cases was a lack of usable data. The department continues to track data on officer interactions and use of force largely on paper and in a form that makes it nearly impossible for an outside agency to analyze or determine if any patterns of racial bias exist, the report notes.
Panel members Monday emphasized that while Gascón had launched the process, he had not directed their work, which included interviews with around 100 police and city officials and community members, the review of thousands of pages of documents and consultations with outside experts.
Panel members also identified the police department’s “good old boy club” atmosphere and culture as key issues to be addressed.
It remains to be seen what impact the panel’s report will have on ongoing police reform efforts.
The Police Commission last month approved a revised use of force policy in response to controversy over recent police shootings that emphasizes deescalation and prohibits practices such as the carotid choke hold and shooting at moving vehicles. The panel’s working group on use of force policies contributed to that revision, officials said Monday.
The police department is also currently undergoing a review by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services, expected to produce a report later this year. While the review is nonbonding, officials with the department and the mayor’s office have vowed to implement the findings.
Police Monday released a statement saying that the department would analyze the panel’s report and forward it to the justice department for inclusion in its own review.
The mayor’s office released a statement thanking the panel for its efforts and emphasizing reform efforts already underway, including increased implicit bias and cultural competency training, investments in body cameras and funding for deescalation training.
Deirdre Hussey, the mayor’s director of communications, said in a statement:
“We will continue to work collaboratively with the community to improve leadership, transparency and accountability within the San Francisco Police Department and strengthen policies, procedures, training and equipment to keep both residents and police officers safe.”
More information on the blue-ribbon panel and the full report can be found at the following link: http://sfblueribbonpanel.com/.