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UncategorizedWhy have problem cops stayed on the force all...

Why have problem cops stayed on the force all these years?

Text messages snare five — but were these really the only examples?

Public Defender Jeff Adachi says hundreds of cases may be tainted
Public Defender Jeff Adachi says hundreds of cases may be tainted

MARCH 17, 2015 – Public Defender Jeff Adachi told reporters today that as many as 1,000 criminal cases will have to be examined, and a good number thrown out, in the wake of the revelations that at least four police officers and a sergeant had exchanged racist and homophobic text messages.

He said that his office and the office of District Attorney George Gascon will go back ten years to see if convictions could have been tainted by racial bias.

“These racist attitudes were not born overnight,” he said at a crowded press conference.

The growing evidence that even more officers, including a captain, might be involved raises a critical question for the SFPD:

How could this have gone on all this time without anyone doing anything about it?

Seriously: As Adachi said, these attitudes were not born overnight, and all of the officers are veterans with 10 years or more on the force.

Should we really believe that these messages were just a few errant moments in their careers?

Adachi is checking to see if there are cases where the credibility of an officer could be questioned, and there’s no doubt that he’s going to find some. He’s already collected 120 cases involving Sgt. Ian Furminger, and will start bringing them to court this week.

But the credibility of more than a handful of cops is on the line here. If these text messages are any indication, it’s more than likely that this kind of racist “banter” (as the lawyer for one cop called it) occurred in police stations on patrol cars, not just on a few text messages.

It’s more than likely that other officers heard this stuff; maybe even some supervisors did. And nobody broke the Code of Silence.

What does that say about the San Francisco Police Department?

Sup. London Breed says that people should turn their own children into the police if they know they’re involved in gun violence. Police Chief Greg Suhr has repeatedly asked the community to help out by reporting (some would call it “snitching”) on serious criminals who have avoided arrest.

How are you going to get anyone to take those requests seriously when the cops don’t do it themselves?

De-Anthony Jones says a lack of community trust in SFPD means criminals are getting away
De-Anthony Jones says a lack of community trust in SFPD means criminals are getting away

De-Anthony Jones, 23, a former San Francisco Youth Commission member and recent graduate of Sacramento State, said at the press conference that he wants to see more young people of color join the ranks of the SFPD. “But this alienates those efforts,” he said.

And by creating a trust wall between the police and the community, he said, “it literally allows criminals to get away.”

After the press conference, Davey D Cook, the KPFA host of Hard Knock Radio, and I were talking with Matt Gonzalez, chief trial attorney for the Public Defender’s Office. Gonzalez noted that he started as a public defender in 1991, and not once could he recall the Police Officers Association – the union for SF cops – calling out or even criticizing an officer engaged in this kind of misconduct.

I can’t remember a case, either.

Adachi’s Racial Justice Committee released a ten-point plan for police reform and transparency that includes mandating 24 hours of training on implicit bias and its effects. Field training officers should be evaluated every year, the plan suggests, and officers patrolling in Black and Brown communities should be encouraged to live in those communities.

The committee also suggests that police shootings should be investigated by an agency outside of the SFPD and District Attorney’s Office.

Any effort to increase transparency and accountability is going to be hampered by state law. The Peace Officers Bill of Rights makes it almost impossible for the public to find out anything about the disciplinary records of law-enforcement officers.

So now that we have a moment of focus on the outrageous conduct of some SFPD officers, maybe the chief and the DA can go to Sacramento and ask for some changes to that law. I wonder if any of our local representatives will carry the bill.

 

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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65 COMMENTS

  1. No. Wrong, Sam. Bigoted cops have no business wearing a badge. How many innocent people have been framed, convicted, imprisoned and even executed by such crooked, biased “public servants”?

  2. This will be my final comment. What you call political correctness, I call social justice. As a society we still trying to recover from a fundamental mistake our founding fathers made in allowing the continuation of slavery in our then-new nation. I’ve never been mugged, raped, or murdered (obviously) but I’ve read enough and experienced enough to appreciate the deep pain racism inflicts on minorities in our society.

    Now the issue has moved into our police and judicial systems and ignoring it will no longer work. I expect change is in the air and as it happens we’ll all be better off, just as we were after the civil rights movement in the 60s.

    That said, I’ve enjoyed our exchange. We don’t agree, but we had a civil conversation.

  3. All good and fine, but there is also a danger that a “purge on racism” might neutralize the effectiveness of a police force in a city where, say, 80%-90% of the crime is conducted by blacks, which is the case for various cities in the mid-west, for instance.

    How do we “purge racism” without specifically instructing cops to ignore real-world statistics that compellingly show that blacks commit far more crime? As an example, Federal crime stats show that black-on-white crime happens at 40 times the rate of white-on-black crime. Should cops be ordered to ignore and discount that?

    The reality is that we cannot reasonably demand that cops dismantle everything they have learned on the job about who does what. And the public will generally side with cops over criminals, even if some cops go too far, which is no doubt the case.

    Political correctness kinda goes out of the window in a life-threatening situation. Racism is bad but getting mugged, raped or murdered is worse.

  4. The racist emails/messages were disclosed as a result of the US Attorney’s investigation of Furminger and collegues.

  5. I would say simply that racism is not appropriate for a cop. Now, if you’re in a bad neighborhood you need to be on your toes and a cop should know his or her beats and the likely trouble spots. That’s OK. But when it comes to using demographics such as race as a screen, that opens up a can of worms like the controversy over “stop and frisk” in New York.

    That leads to the warnings about white policemen in conversations that fathers have with their black teenage sons (Bill DeBlasio) or the ill and unfair treatment by police of the college student son of a New York Times columnist (Charles Blow). These things do happen and they create distrust of the police force. Probably the only way to restore that trust is to purge any hint of racism.

  6. jhayes, as an aside I must say that it is refreshing to find someone here who can advocate liberal ideas without wrapping them in the very intolerance, hatred and stereotyping that they claim to disapprove of. And particularly when it comes to emotive issues like race and SFPD. There would be better debates here if more followed your calm objective approach

    As you say, cops have a tough and dangerous job, and we the people are typically willing to grant them a wide latitude as a result. That is not to say that they should adopt prejudicial viewpoints when carrying out their duties. And any private and personal prejudices should not be allowed to influence their decisions.

    On the other hand, we must put ourselves in their shoes for a moment. If (hypothetically speaking) 80% of the problems they encounter involve people belonging to a certain demographic, then it is perfectly natural (and even potentially life-saving) if they view people according to that experience.

    Upon entering a crime scene or dangerous situation, they see a young black male and an old white woman. It doesn’t immediately follow that the perp is the YBM. But can we understand why a cop might show more interest in or demonstrate more prudence for the one than the other? Absolutely.

    As for the recent police-involved shootings, I am not aware that there has been an official finding of police misconduct in any of them. The last time I can recall that happening was with Oscar Grant, and that appears to have been an unfortunate accident rather than malicious intent. The cop simply got his two side-arms confused in the heat of the moment.may b

    Overt racism may not be appropriate for a cop. Awareness of the correlations between demographics and criminal behavior, born of gritty real-world experience, is another matter.

  7. Sure we all classify people. The difference with police is that they have access to guns and physical power under cover of law. We have a right to demand from police that they do not classify people and use force against them based on sexual orientation, sex, race, income status and so on. Conduct that reflects these classifications by police suggests a state of mind that we don’t want in our police.

    Understand, police in the US have a tough job because guns are rampant and easily available and anyone they deal with could be armed. But the number of police-involved shootings, particularly the latest one in the Mission, are raising questions — was it necessary? — that will not go away easily.

  8. They stay on the force because Police Chief Greg Suhr is a bold-faced liar and allows them to do what they do. It doesn’t matter if you’re in NYC, SF, or Houston: police departments are a brotherhood and they protect each other, even when the department is harboring bad apples that are a threat to the general public. If the bad apples were fired once their shenanigans came to light, there would be FAR more trust in the police. But since that hardly ever happens, the mistrust continues.

  9. You are neglecting the fact that Furminger is in prison for his behavior, and it’s kind of obvious he was preying on poor people, probably non-white, etc.

  10. I’d agree. But the issue here is not whether such comments ae “good things” but whether they have a material impact on the way they perform their duties.

    The critical question, which goes way beyond cops, is how people separate out their private thoughts and politics from their public duties and responsibilities.

  11. I don’t think any amount of exposure to criminals is an excuse to write about cross burning, the KKK and lynching as being good things.

  12. The word “conduct” there is ambiguous. There is a clear distinction between private thoughts and words, and direct public speech or action in the line of duty.

    So I might privately believe, say, that blacks are more likely to be engaged in criminal behavior without assuming that to ever be the case in my job.

    Whatever the code of conduct is, it should surely make a distinction between on-duty and off-duty, between thoughts, words and actions, between private and public behavior, and between words used about someone versus words used at someone.

    We all classify people positively or negatively, according to our own individual experiences and politics. People here often stereotype landlords, bankers, tech workers, Christians, Republicans and so on. The issue is always not those private political views themselves but rather to what extent, if any, it affects our public or professional duties

  13. The hood comment is more than emotive. In some parts of the nation it remains a very real issue. But we’re still dodging around the central issue: does the code of conduct for the SFPD ban homophobic, sexist, and racist conduct and how broadly is conduct defined.

    I’m sure a conversation with a spouse is protected, but correspondence between officers, not so certain. And in your final paragraph, when your cops start referring to classes of people in a derogatory way, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

  14. It should be similarly different for any public office, by that argument. There are opportunities for racial bias in any position of public power, which is why I raised the analogy of Campos, whom we all know to be very partisan on racial issues.

    Your “hood” comment is emotive but the issue remains whether any of us have the ability to keep our public life separate from our private politics. I believe we should at least give people the opportunity to try and achieve that goal.

    And there is a free speech issue here. If I go home at night and talk to my wife, should that conversation be a matter of public scrutiny? I think not.

    Finally, if we accept that cops spend all day dealing with the worst elements of society, should it shock us when they draw conclusions and generalizations about people based on what they see every day? And then discuss those among themselves in private?

  15. I’d say when the employer is in law enforcement, the situation may be different. Would you be OK with having an officer who is a member of the KKK, so long as he didn’t wear his hood while on duty? I would not.

    This is why I raised the issue of the SFPD code of conduct and its breadth.

  16. I’d put it differently. None of us can really help what we believe, nor our biases and prejudices. And we all have them. All we can reasonably ask is that they are not carried over into our jobs.

    In these cases, the comments were made in private, off duty and not in connection with their job performance. I see no reason to connect the two, just like I trust that, say, David Campos does not allow his anti-white bias to carry over into his public duties.

    More generally, off duty behavior is beyond the jurisdiction of an employer, with some important exceptions like airline pilots not getting drunk before a flight

  17. Most would agree that we don’t want homophobic, sexist, or racist cops on the force. Is this type of activity prohibited in the SFPD code of conduct? How broad is the prohibition? Does it include off duty activity? Would we give Ed Lee a pass if he used a racial slur during a private fundraiser?

    I raise this because the lawyers for these officers will probably use a free speech defense.

  18. It may be the other way about i.e. that the cops developed race-based opinions precisely because a disproportionate number of the criminals they encountered turned out to be of a certain race.

    Sounds to me like a chicken and egg thing.

    All that said, my dentist is gay and if he makes a few anti-straight jokes to his buddies when he is hanging out at the Twin Peak Tavern of a night, I’m not sure I mind as long as he fixes my teeth good.

  19. Answer: The police union. I am very supportive of unions, but no true reform cannot happen in any PD until the police union stops defending the indefensible.

    As for those who wonder why ‘messages’ matter: Officers are supposed to protect all of us. Racist, sexist or homophobic cops, minimally, give the impression that they cannot be fair to non-white communities.

  20. Funny question in the title w/ obvious answer: because it is a high-paying job with great benefits and only as hard as the individual police officer wishes to make it.

  21. These were private messages, not statements made in the course of their duties. As such, it is not clear to me why this is a material issue at all, and certainly no reason to let off otherwise guilty criminals.

    These cops spend every day dealing with the worst elements of society. Is it really that shocking that they might occasionally let off steam about it while off duty?

    Frankly I have heard worse comments in any number of bars around town, and nobody gave a crap

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