Cops Report Finds Bias by San Francisco Police Against Blacks

U.S. Cites Bias by San Francisco Police Against Blacks

By THOMAS FULLER

OCT. 12, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — The United States Department of Justice on Wednesday criticized this city’s Police Department for bias against African-American residents in its use of force and during traffic stops but stopped short of saying it was the result of racism.

Ronald Davis, the director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said there were “significant deficiencies” in policing by the department here, including a 24 percent higher chance that African-Americans were pulled over by the police given the estimated number of black drivers in the city.

But Mr. Davis painted a nuanced picture of the bias and said there were many “unanswered questions.”

“We are not saying this is a result of any racial animus,” he said.

The report, for example, found that when minority officers only were involved in the use of force, “the severity of force used and the injuries sustained by community members increased.”

The report was requested by the mayor, Edwin M. Lee, after police officers fatally shot Mario Woods, an African-American man, in December 2015.

The community policing office differs from the civil rights division, which investigated departments in Baltimore, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo., resulting in binding reforms that are part of legal settlements.

Underlining the bias in the San Francisco police force, the report found that although blacks and Latinos were disproportionately searched and arrested, they were less likely to be found with contraband.

The department, which is among the nation’s largest, with about 2,100 officers, has undergone withering criticism in last two years. Officers have been involved in a number of questionable shootings of African-Americans and Latinos.

The report said nine of the 11 instances of deadly use of force from May 2013 through May this year involved minorities.

The police force has made efforts to diversify its ethnic makeup. The latest data show that the police force is 52 percent white, 22 percent Asian, 16 percent Latino, 9 percent black and the rest other ethnicities. As with other police forces across the nation, the department is under intense pressure to overhaul itself after many in the city’s dwindling African-American community have said they have lost trust in the department. The report’s findings, however, are not binding, and the report is intended to help improve the department’s relationship with the community. But Mr. Lee said he would order the department to follow each of the report’s 272 recommendations as soon as possible. The report said the Police Department failed to properly document use-of-force episodes and was not consistent in its policies and training related to officers’ employment of force.

The fatal police shooting of Mr. Woods occurred on Dec. 2, 2015. Mr. Woods, 26, was holding a knife when he was killed by officers on a city sidewalk. The police said Mr. Woods had refused commands to drop the knife. The shooting led to large protests after cellphone videos of the encounter were circulated and showed that Mr. Woods had started to walk away from officers — his arms at his sides — when he was killed.

At least 15 shots were fired by at least five officers, the police said.

Gregory P. Suhr, the city’s police chief, resigned five months later, in May, after Sgt. Justin Erb, 45, fatally shot Jessica Williams, 29, an African-American woman. Ms. Williams, who was unarmed, was suspected of driving a stolen car. The deadly shootings also included the killing of Luis Gongora, 45, who was holding a knife. Mr. Gongora was shot by an officer within 30 seconds of the officer’s arrival.

The department has also been rocked by two text messaging scandals, in which officers sent one another racist and homophobic text messages about city residents.

The group recommended that the city create an inspector general’s office that would audit the department to ensure it was not engaging in biased police practices

 

 

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