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Friday, May 20, 2016

New SFPD Chief Toney Chaplin Promises "Reform, Reform, Reform"

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2016 at 3:22 PM

click to enlarge New police Chief Tony Chaplin, center.
  • New police Chief Tony Chaplin, center.
The four golden stars pinned to acting San Francisco police Chief Toney Chaplin's collar sometime in the past 24 hours — when Mayor Ed Lee named him to succeed Greg Suhr, ousted after yesterday's fatal police shooting — shined in the Chinatown sun when Chaplin arrived at a news conference in the Ping Yuen housing projects on Friday.
Ostensibly called as a "community meeting" meant to give the mostly Cantonese-speaking seniors who live in the concrete high-rises an update about an assault that occurred there in April, the meeting instead was between the media and Chaplin, who has a low political and public profile despite 26 years on the city's police force.

A veteran of the Gang Task Force, the since-gutted narcotics unit, and an inspector and a lieutenant in the homicide unit who rose from handling cases to deputy chief in charge of implementing changes to policy and practices to running the department in just three years, Chaplin made his priorities clear. 

"Reform, reform, reform," he said.

That was what Suhr promised, too. Whether he'll be able to do it — and whether he'll be able to keep those stars as a full-time, permanent chief, or at least keep their luster — is another matter, not entirely in Chaplin's hands.

Lee showed up at Ping Yuen after Chaplin was done explaining himself. He took no questions, did not address the media, and, after a few minutes walking around the Ping Yuen courtyard surrounded by a force-field of reporters and cameras, disappeared up a Ping Yuen elevator with the chief in tow.

click to enlarge The mayor, center-right, and his new top cop.
  • The mayor, center-right, and his new top cop.

Chaplin inherits a police department that, if not in crisis, is at least at a very serious crossroads. A series of racist text messaging scandals, coupled with the usual racial disparities in arrests as well as some high-profile fatal police shootings — all of people of color, none of whom were armed with a firearm — led to enough public outrage for Mayor Ed Lee to be publicly besieged by activists demanding Suhr's resignation.

At the same time, Suhr was at least publicly zealous in changing the police department — welcoming a limited Department of Justice Review, overseeing a pilot program to give SF cops body cameras, and giving cops options when dealing with a suspect armed with a knife — so much so that he infuriated the rank-and-file, enough for the city's police officers to come close to casting a vote of no confidence in the chief a few weeks ago, Police Officers Association consultant Gary Delagnes told SF Weekly on Thursday prior to Suhr's exit.

About that Police Officers Association. The powerful, reactionary, and decidedly old-school POA is seen as the number one biggest obstacle to change in the San Francisco Police Department by both politicians and members of the public. Suhr, recall, was the POA's guy, up until he wasn't, even though he left with high praise from the POA. (He was also Lee's guy until he wasn't, following yesterday's shooting.)

On Friday, Chaplin touted his experience working in narcotics and on the gang task force — two details that aren't viewed with much love in progressive circles — as ideal preparation to be the chief who can fix trust lost with communities of color.

"Those same communities, I know those folks.  I've worked with them," he said, noting that the public has the opportunity to help influence departmental general orders over use of force. "We are going to try to repair that rift. I will say this to you: I am reaching out to everyone. If they truly, truly want change, they are going to have to sit down with us."

Whether the cops will sit down with him — and whether Chaplin will be around long enough to see them through — remains to be seen.
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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