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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Federal Review of SFPD Won't Be the Sweeping Civil Rights Probe Activists Hoped For

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 11:01 AM

click to enlarge prado_0201_0202_justice2-e1454396155335.jpg

When word got out yesterday that the Department of Justice would review the San Francisco Police Department, activists hoped that meant a sweeping investigation of the SFPD’s pattern of racial bias and civil rights violations, similar to federal probes of police departments in Ferguson, Mo. and Chicago.

Well, it won’t be.

Despite Mayor Ed Lee’s call for a DoJ investigation, a resolution supporting the same from the Board of Supervisors, and follow-up requests from District Attorney George Gascón and the American Civil Liberties Union, the SFPD review probably won’t be as transformative as many critics wanted.

That’s because the review won’t be carried out by the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division but by Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). As the Examiner notes, a COPS review is collaborative, and adoption of its recommendations are voluntary. An investigation by the Civil Rights Division, by contrast, has the power to order and enforce changes.

Supervisor John Avalos is disappointed that the feds won’t aggressively investigate the department’s pattern of racial bias, the latest example of which is the Dec. 2 shooting of Mario Woods, a 26-year-old African-American killed by the SFPD after he stabbed an as-yet-unidentified victim and allegedly threatened officers.

“The Civil Rights Division really should be taking charge here,” Avalos told the Chronicle. “This is a civil rights issue. Are we seeing a pattern in the San Francisco Police Department of quickly justifying officer-involved shootings as within policy? Do we see that people of color get disproportionate treatment with the use of force compared to others? Those are things I think are worth investigating.”

Supervisor London Breed echoed Avalos, noting that she specifically wants an “independent investigation into the shooting of Mario Woods.” She added that the black community doesn’t trust the SFPD, and a COPS review, rather than a civil rights investigation with enforceable reforms, is unlikely to change that.

Still, some critics of the department, including John Burris, attorney for the family of Mario Woods, say the review is a step in the right direction.

“It was not exactly what we asked for,” Burris said, “but it’s a great opportunity, so it seems to me, for the mayor and the police chief to take a deep, introspective look into the department.”

Police Chief Greg Suhr, who has come under fire for defending the officers who shot Woods and for reportedly stonewalling the D.A.’s blue ribbon panel, vowed to cooperate fully with the COPS review.

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Jeremy Lybarger

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