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Wednesday, December 2, 2020
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News + Politics SFPD is a toxic culture of old boys run...

SFPD is a toxic culture of old boys run by insiders who resist reform

Final report of outside investigators is devastating. What will it take to change the SFPD?

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The final report of the Blue-Ribbon Task Force investigating the San Francisco Police Department came out today, and while much of it is not surprising, it’s still devastating.

In particular, the report concludes that the San Francisco Police Officers Association has far too much clout in the department, impedes reforms, interferes with misconduct investigations, and helps create a “good old boys club” that at the very least tolerates serious racial bias, gender bias, and homophobia.

Judge LaDoris Cordell denounced he POA and the culture at SFPD
Judge LaDoris Cordell denounced he POA and the culture at SFPD

The report also suggests strongly that the department needs an outside agency auditing it – and while the panel suggests the creation of an inspector general, the conclusion could also support the creation of a public advocate, who would have the ability to monitor, audit, and report on the department.

The report is highly detailed, and runs 239 pages. You can download a copy here. It concludes that bias is deep, perhaps systemic in the department, that Black and Latino people are searched without cause far more often than White people, and that promotions are based more on personal connections than qualifications.

The department general orders, the panel says, are way out of date, that use of force policies need a complete overhaul. Transparency is utterly lacking; some data can’t even be complied because it’s only kept on paper cards that are never entered into a database.

“Data is rarely analyzed, and reforms are rarely implemented,” the panel’s executive director, Anand Subramanian, said.

There are 72 findings and 86 recommendations. Many of the suggestions are process or administration changes that could take place right away. Others, the panel admits, will take years.

Panel member LaDoris Cordell, a retired Superior Court judge who was also the civilian oversight director for the San Jose Police Department, delivered a brutal, harsh rebuke to the POA and the senior department staff who too often follow its wishes.

“The SFPD is, for all practical purposes, run by the POA,” she told a press conference today. “The POA leadership sets the tone, and historically, it’s an ugly one.”

She described how hard it was for the panel to find cops who wanted to talk. The POA “intimidated officers who wanted to talk to us,” she said. “The officers were told they had to go through the POA.”

In fact, the report consistently describes two visions of the department: One that comes from officers who were suggested and provided by the POA, who spoke with a POA lawyer at their sides, and who said that the department had no culture of bias or insensitivity – and a very different one that came from officers who agreed to testify only confidentially because of their fear of reprisal.

The officers who were not sent and approved by the POA described a demoralizing climate of racism, sexism, and homophobia perpetrated by a culture that promotes insiders who play the game and isolates reformers:

Several current officers said they feared retaliation for speaking with the Panel—or generally speaking out publicly about the department—in the form of damage to their professional reputations and/or careers (including being precluded from promotions). Another witness who spoke on condition of anonymity stated that if officers stepped out of line, they faced retaliation. She gave the example of field training officers assigned to train the children of a Chief or Deputy Chief facing the threat of retaliation if the training officers failed the trainees.

At least two current officers expressed a fear for the physical safety of themselves and their families, specifically related to their fellow officers potentially not “having their back” during dangerous situations in the field if they spoke out against the department.

District Attorney George Gascon, a former police chief, had harsh words both for the POA and for the Police Commission:

District Attorney Gascón testified to the Panel that the POA was very strong and held too much control over the SFPD. In his opinion, the POA was heavily involved in local politics, very well-funded, had money to help get politicians elected, and its endorsement was highly coveted. As a result, he believed the POA had more political power than its equivalents in other metropolitan areas. DA Gascón further stated his view that some Police Commissioners were “legacy people” who were close to the department and the POA—especially those appointed by the Mayor.

A high-level confidential witness characterized the POA as a “bullying organization” and “frat house.”

More:

Witnesses inside and outside the SFPD, including one very high-level confidential witness, stated that although the department was diverse in some ways, the culture was dominated by an insular “good old boys’ club” that originated in certain high schools in the city, in particular St. Ignatius, Sacred Heart, and Riordan. In some cases, the network reached further back to elementary school and youth sports leagues. Some witnesses stated that officers who did not attend St. Ignatius high school could not reach the inner circles of power in the department.

The POA immediately sent out a press release calling the panel’s work “divisive” and dismissing it as a “kangaroo court.”

Justice Cruz Reynoso and Judges Dickran Tevrisian and LaDoris Cordell were the bule-ribbon panelists
Justice Cruz Reynoso and Judges Dickran Tevrisian and LaDoris Cordell were the bule-ribbon panelists

The panel found that the disciplinary process at the department is badly broken, and that officers rarely receive effective discipline for conduct violations. The Office of Citizen Complaints is understaffed, everyone agrees – but there’s a clear perception that most complaints are too easily dismissed and serious incidents are resolved with little consequences for the officers:

It also bears special emphasis that neither the Chief nor the Director of the OCC has sent a discipline case that originated from a citizen’s complaint to the Police Commission since 2012. All of the disciplinary cases that have been sent to the Police Commission from 2013 through 2015 originated in IAD. During this same period, only nine OCC complaints have resulted in a suspension by the Chief, and all such suspensions were for 10 days or fewer. That means that of the more than 1,920 OCC complaints closed and 147 OCC complaints where discipline was imposed over this time period, none were determined by the Chief or the OCC Director to raise issues that warranted serious discipline. While each individual case is unique and it is possible that there are reasonable explanations for why no OCC case has been referred to the Commission between 2012 and 2015, these statistics are troubling and raise questions about whether officers are being held accountable to the citizens they serve.

That’s a kind way of putting it.

The report demonstrates why deep, systematic reform is needed in the department – and at the Police Commission, where the mayor’s appointees at the very least enabled this crisis to happen.

Cruz Reyonoso, a former state Supreme Court justice and a panel member, told reporters that the necessary changes won’t come from within the department. “The Board of Supervisors and the mayor need to be bound by [the need for a change],” he said. “I’m not sure it will happen unless the citizens insist that it happens.”

When I asked Reynoso if he and the other panelists supported the proposal by Sup. John Avalos to put some of the police budget on reserve, pending clear and demonstrable changes, he demurred and said that the department needs its resources.

Yes, it does – but you have to wonder what it will take to change what is clearly a deep-seated toxic culture that has resisted every effort at reform for decades.

One reporter asked if the problems at the department were the result of a few bad apples or the entire orchard. Subramanium acknowledged that there are problems throughout the orchard.

The POA leadership is an example. It’s a labor union, and the member elect the leaders. If the majority of the officers don’t want to see obstacles to reform, why do they keep electing leaders who are, by all accounts, obstacles to reform?

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.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Hardest job in the world? Chasing teen-agers and harassing homeless people?
    Most cops spend most of their careers sitting on their ass. The most danger they are ever in is a traffic accident. Hollywood has got Americans believing the average citizen is in danger from their neighbor. If this is true, no number of cops will save you.

  2. “I worry a lot more about criminals than I do about those who do what is probably the hardest job in the world”

    Ignorance is…ignorant.

  3. Longer than that. My late grandfather was one of the first Black deputy sheriffs in SF history, and the SFPD has always been overrun with predominantly White rat bastards.

  4. <<o. ✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤:::::::!be130p:….,.

  5. <<o. ✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤:::::::!bw685p:….,….

  6. Maybe but police brutality is a byproduct of the culture of violence that exists in this country. No other country in the world has the degree of armament among the civilian population that exists in the USA. Americans celebrate success in violence, and feel deeply that violence is often necessary in order to achieve the greater good. it isn’t really about an us vs. them mentality its about whether America can retain its identity and cultural heritage and history without the degree of mass shootings which occur among civilians. I would like to believe that this could happen but I doubt it. I think violence will have to get much worse before real change occurs.

  7. As long as SFPD keeps their current back ground unit and in house hiring things will never change. You have unqualified morons hiring other unqualified morons. And that chain has been going on for 3 decades.

  8. $am, you’re starting to sound a lot like Donald Trump. Were you among the 9,000 some odd SF voters who cast ballots for Trump in the June primary?

  9. are you talking about the SFPD or Department of Building Inspection…sounds like the exact same department

  10. What I find absolutely hilarious about this is the SFPD has been following the recommendations of “diversity advocates” for decades now in recruiting and promoting minorities, including LGBT people – and from that they ended up with Asians who spend their time running down blacks and gay officers who hate all other races as well as other gays! Clearly – we need to double down on our promotion of the diversity campaign in the SFPD – it’s worked SO well so far!!

  11. This was already well known information to anyone who cared to do a little research. Too bad reports like this do nothing to change the power of the POA over politicians. Contributions, threats and intimidation are what work for the POA. In the end, it’s campaign material if Gascon should ever decide to run for another office.

  12. Yes, being a police officer is no ordinary job. And so police officers, and their leaders, and the FOP, must hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior. But enough from me. Let’s listen to NYPD cop Graham Weatherspoon’s opinion of how police treat the people they have sworn to protect and serve. His comments apply to virtually all police departments, all over the country.

    https://www.facebook.com/democracynow/videos/10154286584608279/?pnref=story

  13. I wonder what the racial (and LGBT) breakdown of the force is, and what that breakdown is of the POA leadership?

    An “old boy” network doesn’t necessarily have to be a bunch of crackers. Its really just a bunch of insiders.

    It might be worth considering a wholesale replacement of the 2000 odd officers. If nothing else, the taxpayers would be off the hook for much of the huge unfunded mandate that is Prop B (’02) pension “reform”.

  14. LOL, I mention Sweden and I’m a racist? I mention the Power Exchange and I’m a homophobe?

    You are a living embodiment of the harm that political correctness has done to our nation. You hide behind it like a scared worm.

  15. It’s not enough that you are racist, so you have to be homophobic too.

    Flagged. Shame on you, Sam.

  16. You’d beg with your eyes welling up with tears and your ass cheeks more clenched than they were the last time you were at the Power Exchange.

    You talk big on the internet but you’re a wuss IRL

  17. Yep. If a white guy breaks into my home, I really don’t need the police. But if a black guy breaks into my home, I’ll be begging the police to rescue me. Or something.

  18. Do you really and seriously believe that if a cop feels the need to shoot, based on the behavior of the perp, that it makes any difference what their race is?

    Because I have never seen any evidence to support that. Blacks get into more scrapes with cops because they commit more crimes.

    And the funny thing is that if a black guy broke into your home, you’d be on the phone to the cops begging for them to rescue your lily white scrawny ass.

  19. Yeah, fighting racism is nothing more than “political correctness.”

    And color us all shocked that you don’t give a shit about what happens to non-whites.

  20. Does anyone ever consider what it is like to be a cop? To have as sworn duty to deal with the very worst and most dangerous people in out society, with no option to just run away?

    And further is there any appreciation for what that can do to a person when it is all day, every day? Does the average pen-pusher even have a clue?

    I’m sure there are some excesses in any police force, but we should all understand this is no ordinary job. And keeping is all safe is the most important thing a city does.

    So ask me if I think it’s likely that SFPD will be a bastion of political correctness and I will answer – probably not. Ask me if that is top of my concerns, and I’d answer the same way.

    I worry a lot more about criminals than I do about those who do what is probably the hardest job in the world

  21. What a surprise! Graft and corruption in the SFPD. Where is the blue ribbon panel investigating the Supervisors and Mayor? And the ignored complaints to the HRC concerning corrupt commissioners who caused an exodus of members from the LGBT Advisory Committee? Or rags like 48 Hills who ignore citizens and HRC advisers who are threatened, harassed and blackballed for trying to bring it to light? If Tim doesn’t do it or isn’t impressed enough or doesn’t think it will sell, those stories get ignored. The press is as much the problem as their corrupt cronies in City Hall. Which Supervisor should we trust to start reforming the police? Scott Wiener? He’s in the POA’s pocket. Jane Kim? If it doesn’t serve her personally she won’t pick up the phone. Corrupt press writing about a corrupt police force in a city run by a corrupt mayor who is supposedly checked and balanced by the corrupt supervisors…wow.

    Wake me when an honest man shows up…

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