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Friday, January 29, 2016

ACLU Calls for Federal Investigation Into SFPD's Pattern of Civil Rights Violations

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 4:00 PM

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Barely 24 hours after District Attorney George Gascón’s scathing letter to Mayor Lee, in which he questioned the latter’s commitment to reforming police department bias, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has called on the Department of Justice to launch a federal probe into the SFPD’s systemic civil rights violations.

Although Lee also requested a DoJ investigation on Jan. 21 — as did the Board of Supervisors — Gascón's letter suggests that neither the mayor nor the SFPD are being especially cooperative in local investigations, such as the D.A.'s blue ribbon panel. 

The ACLU argues that despite professed local efforts to improve the department — Chief Greg Suhr has vowed to prioritize de-escalation techniques and revise use-of-force policies, while Gascón launched the aforementioned blue ribbon panel to review the department — the only way to guarantee enforceable action is if the DoJ steps in.


The crisis of confidence in San Francisco about police practices today is the result of a convergence of a number of festering problems: the excessive use of deadly force against young men of color; ample evidence of the persistent presence of racial bias: the failure to train and supervise officers to use crisis intervention and de-escalation strategies in dealing with people with disabilities: and a systemic breakdown in the areas of supervision, management and discipline which has led to a fundamental lack of accountability that pervades the Department and its oversight agencies. 

The letter reiterates stats that not only underscore the SFPD’s alarming track record of killing black men, but also killing people with mental illness — all the while ruling these incidents as justified per department protocol.

Since 2000, the ACLU notes, SFPD officers shot at least 103 persons, 37 of whom died. In all 37 of those cases, the Department found that use of force was within policy and merited no discipline. The letter then calls out Chief Suhr for pre-emptively defending the five officers who shot and killed Mario Woods on Dec. 2, noting that such support “shows a bias and a rush to judgment that discourages people who look to the police for fairness and justice, and at the same time encourages police officers to believe that they can act with impunity because their Chief has their back.”

(John Burris, attorney for Woods' family, has also called for a DoJ investigation.) 

In addition, the ACLU quotes from KQED’s 2014 analysis that found more than half of 19 people killed by the SFPD between 2005 and January 2014 – 11 out of 19 – had a mental illness.

But perhaps the biggest problem, the ACLU suggests, is bias within the department, which allows officers to act with impunity (and exchange racist text messages with a clear conscience). The letter mentions Gascón’s frustrations with the department’s “stonewalling” as good reason why a federal investigation is warranted.

The letter closes with a kicker that drives home the need for reform — wherever it comes from:

A vivid illustration of the breakdown of a meaningful system of discipline was candidly provided recently by Joyce Hicks the Director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, who publicly testified that of the 250 complaints received by the OCC which contained an allegation of racial bias, not one had been sustained

Read the letter below.

20160129-Aclu Letter Requesting Independent Investigation Into Sfpd




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Jeremy Lybarger

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