Much Work Remains to be Done to Transform SFPD 6 Months After Mario Woods’ Execution

On December 2nd, 2015, in a scene reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) executed 26 year old Mario Woods by firing squad in broad daylight in front of a bus full of children on their way home from school, among many eyewitnesses.

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Mario was the 8th person executed by SFPD in 2015, the 20th person executed by the SFPD under Chief Greg Suhr.

It took tremendous community pressure and 2 more lives for Chief Greg Suhr to resign. SFPD opened fire on Luis Gongora Demetrio Pat within 22 seconds of arriving on the scene on April 7th, 2016. An SFPD sergeant shot and killed Jessica Williams, a 29 year old pregnant woman, inside a stolen car in violation of department policy on May 19th, 2016. An unrelated investigation that came to light in March 2016 revealed more SFPD officers exchanging racist and sexist texts while on the job. And SFPD officers who blew the whistle on racism within SFPD were threatened publicly May 7th, 2016 by ex Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes:

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In addition to my concerns about SFPD brutality, as a taxpayer, voter, citizen, small business owner, homeowner, mother, and daughter of elderly parents who also reside in San Francisco, I find it outrageous that I cannot call 911 and have confidence that the police who respond did not just send a text calling someone a “n — — -.” I have lived in Colorado, Massachusetts, Texas, New York City and have never been subject to a police department so far out of civilian oversight. $577 MM of our hard-earned tax dollars support SFPD and its time that they become accountable to us.

Chief Suhr’s resignation was the first and necessary step towards transformational culture change of SFPD.

Every other aspect of SFPD culture remains the same. The racist rogue violent SFPD Police Officers Association continues to dominate SFPD and no public official is reining them in.

Another SFPD death is imminent because officers know they can act with impunity.

Toney Chaplin, the interim Chief appointed by Mayor Lee, is a big improvement in terms of his humble demeanor, commitment to “reform, reform, reform,” and understanding of people of color. But make no mistake: he was groomed by Mayor Lee for a long time to be Chief Suhr’s successor. Therefore he is likely to be as beholden to the SF Police Officers Association as his predecessor.

To be clear, there are many good officers in SFPD. But as the pro bono attorneys who investigated every aspect of SFPD’s operations for District Attorney George Gascón’s Blue Ribbon Panel found, SFPD lacks accountability, transparency, modernity and needs a top to bottom overhaul to rid it of bias and nepotism.

Now is the time for San Franciscans to stand up to the SF Police Officers Association and demand SFPD leadership, policy, and culture change. We must no longer tolerate the “old school” culture of SFPD.

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We need a new leader with experience running a modern, accountable police department of SFPD’s size. This is imperative to rein in the SF Police Officers Association, rid SFPD of bias, and modernize SFPD’s operations.

The San Francisco Police Commission and Mayor Ed Lee should work with communities most impacted by police brutality to define the criteria for and selection process of a new Chief. Criteria should include extensive experience with:

  • building trust with communities of color
  • fostering a department culture free of bias
  • 21st century policing procedures and operations
  • holding an entire department accountable

The new Chief must pledge to adopt President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force Report and the Blue Ribbon Panel Report (forthcoming) and follow all their recommendations to modernize SFPD and rid it of bias.

Process: According to the SF Charter, the SF Police Commission presents 3 candidates to the Mayor who makes the final decision and appoints the Chief.

At its June 1st, 2016 meeting, President Suzy Loftus of the SF Police Commission announced that unbeknownst to the rest of the Commission, she formed a subcommittee with Commission members Sonia Melara and Julius Turman to oversee the search.

What the public can do: Pressure Mayor Lee, the Board of Supervisors, and the Police Commission. Contact information at end of post.

The San Francisco Police Commission needs to adopt a new Use of Force policy requiring use of minimal force and not adopt Tasers.

SFPD’s current Use of Force policy was adopted in 1995. The SF Chronicle reported that “Between 2000 and 2015, there have been 95 reported shootings involving San Francisco police officers, including 40 fatal ones, according to police data (officer suicides and accidental discharges were excluded).”

“While no officer-involved shootings have resulted in criminal charges in San Francisco since 2000, police have determined four of those shootings to be in violation of department policy (excluding suicides and accidental discharges). At least two of those involved officers firing a gun at a moving vehicle, a practice discouraged by federal guidelines and restricted by some police departments.”

After Mario Woods execution by SFPD, the SF Police Commission started to review its Use of Force policy to encourage use of minimal force. While they’ve been working on it, SFPD killed two more people.

The SF Police Commission needs to pass a new Use of Force policy requiring officers to preserve sanctity of life and use minimal force, train officers in its use, and hold officers who violate it accountable for their actions. The SF Police Officers Association is fighting back with its own proposed Use of Force policy that would allow officers to continue to kill with impunity.

At the same time, Mayor Lee, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and local business improvement districts are calling on the San Francisco Police Commission to adopt Tasers. San Francisco is one of only 3 counties in California that do not deploy Tasers. SF Police Officers Association has demanded Tasers after every officer involved shooting.

Community advocates are staunchly opposed to Tasers because as the excellent 2015 documentary Killing Them Safely demonstrates, Tasers can cause serious injury and even death, especially when used on people experiencing mental distress or intoxication. Tasers are disproportionately used against people of color and do not reduce officer involved shootings.

We want SFPD to change its culture to deescalate from violence, not acquire another tool of violence.

Process: The SF Police Commission is discussing Use of Force at its three upcoming meetings this month. They are likely to tie changing the Use of Force Policy to adopting Tasers. The Board of Supervisors is setting SFPD’s budget and could decide to withhold funding for Tasers.

What the public can do: Contact the Mayor, Board of Supervisors, and Police Commission and testify at their meetings that we demand a new Use of Force policy requiring minimal force and no Tasers.


SFPD is notoriously resistant to culture change as this insightful article explains. One of the greatest tools for getting a police force to become more accountable is a Civil Rights Pattern and Practice Investigation by either the US Department of Justice or the California Department of Justice. A pattern and practice investigation culminates in a consent decree overseen by a Federal judge. SFPD would be forced to change. That is why advocates petitioned both US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris for a Civil Rights Division investigation of SFPD. Both have declined.

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Instead Mayor Lee and Chief Suhr requested the US Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office conduct a “collaborative review.” Community members, including the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, have been opposed to the “collaborative review” from the beginning because it produces recommendations that are unenforceable.

Process: Either US Attorney General Loretta Lynch or CA Attorney General Kamala Harris needs to send her Civil Rights Division to conduct a pattern and practice investigation of SFPD as was done in Ferguson post Michael Brown and Baltimore post Freddie Gray. It’s imperative that this start soon as we will have a new US Attorney General in 2017 and Kamala Harris will likely become the next US Senator for California come November.

If both continue to refuse, we should demand that the Board of Supervisors allocate funding for a local independent investigation whose recommendations would also become a consent decree enforceable by a judge.

What the public can do: Advocate with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, CA Attorney General Kamala Harris, US Attorney for Northern California Brian Stretch, Senator Dianne Feinstein, US Representative Nancy Pelosi for a Civil Rights Pattern and Practice Investigation. Advocate with the Board of Supervisors for a local enforceable investigation if Attorney General Lynch and Attorney General Harris refuse.

Punish Wrongdoing

District Attorney George Gascón needs to indict and convict police officers involved in the Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora, and Jessica Williams shootings with murder. The officers involved in these shootings must go to jail. Police impunity must come to an end.

The San Francisco Police Commission needs to take a more assertive role in disciplining officers. It is the responsibility of the San Francisco Police Commission to discipline officers. Under their watch, 22 SFPD killings and not one but two scandals have emerged under two separate unrelated investigations revealing racist text messages exchanged between officers while on duty. Lax enforcement by the Police Commission has fostered a culture where killers and bigots are emboldened. The SF Police Commissioners need to step up their discipline, or the people of San Francisco need to demand that the Police Commissioners step down and be replaced by other San Franciscans who will act decisively to discipline SFPD conduct until all officers get the memo that this type of behavior will no longer be tolerated.

The Office of Civilian Complaints needs to sustain more complaints to the San Francisco Police Commission. The mission of the Office of Citizen Complaints is to promptly, fairly and impartially investigate complaints against San Francisco police officers and make policy recommendations regarding police practices. The challenge is that it is relatively rare for OCC to pursue complaints not resolved by the SFPD to the Police Commission. Doing so would result in more discipline.

What the public can do: Contact the public officials mentioned above and urge them to act.

Improve SFPD Talent Practices

SFPD lacks procedures for recruiting, hiring, background checks, promotions, and the like, allowing a culture of bias and nepotism to thrive, according to the pro bono lawyers from the finest law firms in San Francisco who audited SFPD for the Blue Ribbon Panel. SFPD officers need training in deescalation, how to overcome bias, and Mental Health First Aid, a way to respond to people experiencing mental health crises. New York City is investing $850 MM in training 25,000 first responders and community members in Mental Health First Aid, a great example. SFPD also needs to reward good behavior, as it did this week in a ceremony honoring officers who deescalated conflict for the second year in a row.

What the public can do: Contact Mayor Ed Lee, the SF Police Commission, and SFPD Interim Chief Toney Chaplin and urge them to act.

Protect Whistleblowers

The most important arbiters of SFPD culture are officers themselves. That is why it is important that whistleblowing by SFPD officers be encouraged, not thwarted.

What the public can do: Contact Mayor Ed Lee, the SF Police Commission, and SFPD Interim Chief Toney Chaplin and urge them to protect whistleblowers.

Audit and Continuously Improve SFPD

Stakeholders agree- the Board of Supervisors, Blue Ribbon Panel, the SF Police Commission, the public- that we need accurate, impartial data to make good decisions. That is currently impossible with SFPD: the Blue Ribbon Panel found that SFPD maintains poor records and no entity is providing oversight and auditing SFPD.

Currently Supervisor David Campos is proposing creating a Public Advocate office over the Office of Civilian Complaint. I served in NYC government and am familiar with the function of a Public Advocate. Essentially a Public Advocate is a government official the public can turn to after they have exhausted other channels that have been nonresponsive. I do not think another layer of bureaucracy would be a helpful move to improve SFPD. Far more helpful would be to create an Office of Inspector General of SFPD, modeled on the office in NYC, to continuously audit and analyze SFPD and make recommendations. NYPD Office of Inspector General was created by the Floyd stop and frisk litigation. The Inspector General continuously audits NYPD, analyzes and makes recommendations for continuous improvement and provides impartial accurate data on NYPD activities so that all stakeholders know what is going on.

What the public can do: Contact Board of Supervisors and ask them to ensure SFPD is audited.

Mayor Lee: Telephone: (415) 554–6141
Twitter: @mayoredlee

Board of Supervisors contact information:

Meetings: Tuesday afternoons at City Hall, public comment generally around 4 pm. Budget Committee is probably meeting June 15th at 1 pm to work on next year’s budget. The Board of Supervisors will work on next year’s budget at June 21st meeting.

Supervisor John Avalos is working on withholding $200 MM of SFPD’s $577MM budget until SFPD makes changes. Support his effort by contacting other Supervisors and urging them to join him and testifying at meetings.

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Police Commission information:

Meetings: June 8th 5:30 PM Smith Hall Cafeteria, City College SF, 50 Phelan Avenue, SF

June 15th 5:30 PM Grattan Elementary School, 165 Grattan Street, SF

June 22nd 5:30 PM SF City Hall Room 400. This is the meeting where the Commission will likely vote on the Use of Force policy.

Police Commissioner Contact Information:

Main number 415–837–7070

Suzy Loftus, President 415–703–5500

Julius Turman, Vice President 415–837–7070

Thomas Mazzucco 415–788–1900

Petra de Jesus 877–995–6372

Joe Marshall 415–826–8664

Victor Hwang 415–595–6081

Sonia Melara 415–338–1005

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US Attorney General Loretta Lynch @LorettaLynch 202–353–1555

CA Attorney General Kamala Harris (916) 322–3360 @kamalaharris

US Attorney for Northern California Brian Stretch (415) 436–7200

US Senator Dianne Feinstein (415) 393–0707 @SenFeinstein

US Representative Nancy Pelosi (415) 556–4862 @NancyPelosi

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon (415) 553–1754 @georgegascon

Office of Civilian Complaints Executive Director Joyce Hicks (415) 241–7711

Toney Chaplin, Interim Chief of San Francisco Police Department 415–553–0123

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