San Francisco Police Have 'Institutionalized Bias' Against Minorities, Feds Find

From record-keeping to use of force, the report found that the SFPD has "significant deficiencies."
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SAN FRANCISCO — The Department of Justice found that the city’s troubled police department has “outdated use of force policies,” “lack of accountability,” and “numerous indicators of implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups,” according to a report released Wednesday.

The scathing findings from the DOJ depict a police force with “significant deficiencies” in many areas, from its record-keeping to the ways that San Francisco police officers treat African Americans and other people of color.

Since 2013, of the 11 people killed by the SFPD, nine were people of color. The report expressed concern that only one of those cases has been closed. “It is unacceptable for officer-involved shooting investigations to remain open for years,” the report said.

When it comes to traffic stops, the report said that African Americans are “disproportionately” stopped, and black and Hispanic drivers are searched too frequently. Yet despite officers making more frequent traffic stops of minority drivers, searches of white motorists more often turned up contraband, the report said.

The DOJ also faulted police officials for inadequate reviews of incidents where officers use force. A related problem is that the department “does not maintain complete and consistent” records about such incidents.

Bias appears to be a problem within the department’s ranks, the feds said. Female and minority recruits got fired more often than white men who’d joined the force.

The San Francisco Police Department has been plagued by embarrassing revelations that groups of officers shared racist, sexist and other inappropriate text messages. The DOJ report stated that the department is “not transparent around officer discipline” and does not sufficiently evaluate cops’ performance.

Despite the far-reaching criticism, the Department of Justice concluded with an optimistic assessment. The SFPD “is committed to making changes and working with the community,” the report said.

The fatal shooting of Mario Woods by five officers in December was a key event precipitating the six-month DOJ investigation. Witnesses’ video showed cops shooting the knife-carrying Woods, 26, more than 20 times although he appeared to shuffle away from officers as they opened fire.

In the aftermath of his death, the city’s police commission approved a new policy that emphasized de-escalating tense standoffs, but it has not implemented proposals to equip cops with stun guns to reduce the use of firearms.

The DOJ report is non-binding but carried 272 recommended reforms. The proposed changes include modernizing record-keeping around the use of force and outfitting officers with stun guns, as others have previously suggested.

Mayor Ed Lee said that he is “directing the leadership of SFPD and the Police Commission to implement the DOJ’s 272 recommendations as soon as possible, and with one specific goal: Fair and just policing that treats everyone the same and places the sanctity of life above all else,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I wanted an unflinching, unsparing review ― and I’m glad we got it,” Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said in a statement. “The first step is to see this report as the blueprint for reform. Sustainable progress and reform is best achieved through collaboration. The Police Commission will continue to work with community members and members of the department as we implement this blueprint for reform together.”

This story has been updated to include more details from the report.

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