Federal Review Finds Racial Disparities in San Francisco Police Practices

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The San Francisco police department disproportionately targets and uses force against African-American and Hispanic individuals, according to a U.S. federal investigation released Wednesday.

The DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services conducted the review at the request of city officials following protests over the fatal shooting of a black man, Mario Woods, and the disclosure that some officers had exchanged racist and homophobic text messages.

The report's release Thursday comes shortly before Mayor Ed Lee is widely expected to announce the appointment of a new permanent police chief.

The DOJ also faulted police officials for inadequate reviews of incidents where officers use force. "San Francisco has the second oldest police department in the nation, and it shows", he said.

In the report's executive summary, Ronald Davis, director of COPS, said, "We found a department with concerning deficiencies in every operational area assessed: use of force; bias; community policing practices; accountability measures; and recruitment, hiring, and promotion practices". "However, the more than 270 recommendations described in the report provide an opportunity for the police department to address these deficiencies and advance the police department to meet the best practices of 21st century policing".

Additionally, on traffic stops, African American drivers were disproportionately stopped and African American and Hispanic drivers were disproportionately searched and arrested compared to whites.

After police in San Francisco shot and killed a black man named Mario Woods in December, marking the city's sixth fatal officer-involved shooting previous year alone, the US Department of Justice launched a review of the department's policies and practices. Suhr resigned in May.

Specifically, while the report praises the city and SFPD for opening itself up to their investigation, it criticizes the department's inconsistent policies and training surrounding officers' use of force, further calling out officers for failing to diligently and properly document use-of-force incidents.

"When we're talking about bias policing and racial profiling, there is a direct connection to these associations being made by officers", San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said at the time. If a supervisor didn't respond, the Justice Department found, it was left "to the officer who used force to complete the investigation, which is unacceptable".

In response, the DOJ has recommended that officers regularly turn over their electronic communication devices to check for inappropriate interactions, as The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The city's 2,000 police officers reflect the city's diversity, with white police constituting only a slight majority and black officers comprising 9 percent of the force.

"Fearing serious injury or death", police said, officers opened fire after Woods refused numerous demands to drop a knife.

Earlier in the year, a judge ruled that Suhr had waited too long to discipline officers who he discovered had exchanged racist and homophobic text messages.

While the COPS report is not legally binding, Davis today noted that his office will continue to work with the city over the next 18 months to implement the reforms it outlines.

Suhr said he delayed discipline because he didn't want to interfere with a federal corruption investigation into several officers.