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Monday, May 2, 2016

How Will the SFPD Train Away Its Racist Officers?

Posted By on Mon, May 2, 2016 at 12:28 PM

Repeat after me: "Don't be bigoted..."
  • Repeat after me: "Don't be bigoted..."

San Francisco’s police chief is in full damage-control mode, as Greg Suhr's department attempts to reshape its image following yet another scandal involving bigoted and racist text messages between officers

Much of Suhr’s Friday news conference and the ensuing coverage focused on outrage and apologia over the newly released texts.

The chief did announce that all 2,100 officers must complete an anti-harassment class within the next month, according to the Associated Press, although it remains to be seen what kind of impact such efforts will have on a police force that appears to be tainted.

And some of the new texts revealed by Suhr — prior texts had been made public by attorneys — show not only do officers display racism and bias toward the public, but also their own colleagues.

The Chronicle reported a female officer was referred to as “a hot mess” and “a senile grandmother,” while a gay officer in the media relations department was called “flaming.” Is this something you can train away?

Suhr received support from Mayor Ed Lee and from leaders of the black community, including NAACP chief the Rev. Amos Brown. Even the police union, which has been criticized for its unflinching support of officers involved in fatal shootings, commended Suhr for releasing more text messages.

“It’s clear that people wanted to have this information as quickly as we could properly provide it,” Suhr said at Friday’s news conference. “I wanted the public to know that we heard loud and clear that you wanted it all. We decided that with the charging of former Lt. Liu [the ex-superior of a bad texter accused of rape] and the end of that criminal investigation, now is the time to just put it out there. And we have nothing to hide.”

Liu, who retired last year when Suhr suspended him and three other officers after learning of the text messages, was charged last week with obstructing a rape investigation involving former Officer Jason Lai, who was also suspended in October and subsequently resigned.

The District Attorney’s Office did not prosecute Lai on the rape allegation due to insufficient evidence. The Chronicle identified one of the other officers as Keith Ybarreta, who also resigned, but the fourth officer remains unknown.

Prior to Friday’s news conference, Lee had written a letter to the Police Department discussing the texts and perceived culture of bias among the ranks. The Chronicle reported that it contained mention of a “Not on My Watch” pledge in which officers must “not tolerate hate or bigotry in the community or from fellow officers, and confront intolerance and report it without question or pause.”

Last year, the Police Department was rocked by a similar scandal involving convicted ex cop Ian Furminger and several others. Those texts dated by to 2014, and a judge ruled that Suhr could not discipline the officers involved, whom he tried to fire, because the department had waited too long after discovering the texts.

“We are committed to cutting out this cancer of intolerance,” Suhr said Friday. “We will continue to do the hard work every single day to restore the trust of this city and the people we are privileged to serve.”

That work certainly starts with a new approach to policing one of the most racially and economically diverse cities in the country. Can new training really suss out and solve racism that the SFPD's application process and its current training failed to notice and rectify? We'll know the next time texts are made public.
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Max DeNike

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