Justice Department Pushes for Change at San Francisco Police Department

More than 272 changes in the San Francisco Police Department have been recommended by the Justice Department after a six-month investigation prompted by several officer-involved fatal shootings, including one that left 26-year-old Mario Woods dead.

The shootings have also sparked protests over how officers treat people of color in the city.

The Justice Department investigation did not lead to a consent decree or a takeover of the department but it did reveal deficient practices and policies at the police department, which has been embroiled in several recent scandals. Those include the discovery of racist emails and homophobic texts and emails between officers, an investigation into an officer’s involvement with a known prostitute who turned out to be a teenage girl, and fatal shootings.

In a 387-page report, the Justice Department said it found the majority of deadly use of force incidents by San Francisco officers involved people of color.

The report said, “The deficiencies identified range from outdated use of force policies to inadequate data collection and lack of accountability measures. The assessment team identified disparities in traffic stops, post-stop searches, and use of deadly force against African-Americans. In addition, there are numerous indicators of implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups.”

Ronald Davis, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said at a news conference alongside interim San Francisco Police Chief Toney Chaplin and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee that the investigation found “use of force involved people of color nine of 11 times.”

“The truth hurts,” Davis said, adding, “To be selectively ignorant and pretend nothing is going on around you is ultimately going to be fatal to your organization.”

In the same news conference Lee responded to the findings.

“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.”

The Woods case, which was the final catalyst for the Justice Department investigation, was not mentioned by any of the officials present.

Woods was initially a suspect in the stabbing of a stranger in December 2015. Police officers arrived and by the end of a confrontation with Woods, officers had shot him more than 20 times, killing him.

“Fearing serious injury or death,” police said, officers opened fire after Woods refused numerous demands to drop a knife. Police officials said officers shot beanbags and pepper spray before shooting Woods because those initial methods failed to stop him.