The United States' Department of Justice released a scathing report this week criticizing the San Francisco Police Department for a pattern of "implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups," as well as "disparities in traffic stops, post-stop searches, and use of deadly force against African Americans." The "sufficient deficiencies" described in the nearly 400-page report have prompted the Department to make 272 separate recommendations for improved policing by the department.
The DOJ's investigation was launched in February after a number of high-profile police shootings in the city, including that of Mario Woods, a black man killed by officers in December 2015, whose death—captured on cell phone footage—prompted outrage and calls for reform. The report was commissioned by San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and former police chief Greg Suhr, who reportedly turned to the Justice Department following the death of Woods, and several other high profile incidents. Suhr stepped down as chief in May, after officers shot and killed an unarmed woman suspected of car theft.
The DOJ investigation focused on five areas within the SFPD:
- Use of force policies and practices
- Policies, practices, and training to address issues of bias in policing
- Community policing strategies and protocols
- Policies and practices regarding complaint and disciplinary processes
- Recruitment, hiring, and personnel practices
Among its findings, the DOJ concluded that the SFPD lacked accountability and featured "outdated use of force policies." Additionally, black drivers were "disproportionately stopped compared to their representation in the driving population," and both black and Latinx drivers were both more likely to be searched during stops, even though they were less likely to actually have any contraband found on their person compared to white drivers. However, the report also found that "community members’ race or ethnicity was not significantly associated with the severity of force used, or injury arising from an officer’s use of force."
Accordingly, the DOJ's report offered a number of recommendations to address the issues highlighted therein, including deeper research into its use of force, and further training for offices. The report also suggested the SFPD develop a real-time data capturing system to track and assess instances where force is used. In response to a scandal involving racist texts sent between officers, the DOJ also recommended a "bias audit" on all departmental electronic equipment.
At a press conference responding to the report, San Francisco Mayor Lee accepted the hard truths uncovered in the DOJ's investigation.
"The SFPD will accept and implement every single recommendation. We must restore trust, " Lee said. "We have worked hard to put reforms in place. We did not wait for the DOJ report to become final."
That open-mindedness was, in fact, described in the DOJ's report, which stated that, "Notwithstanding the deficiencies noted, we also found a police department wanting to provide fair and unbiased policing while protecting the community. Throughout the process, the police department has been open, cooperative, and willing to make changes."
The DOJ has stated it will work with the SFPD for the next 18 months to help implement its recommendations.