SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Shaken by a fatal police shooting and racist texting scandal, the San Francisco Police Commission on Wednesday sought to reassure residents of steps being taken to reform the department and regain the community’s trust.
During the Wednesday night Police Commission meeting at City Hall, several residents continued to voice outrage over the shooting death of Mario Woods last month.
Woods, a 26-year-old black man who was holding a knife and suspected in a stabbing, was shot dead by five officers in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood on Dec. 2, prompting protests and calls for Police Chief Greg Suhr to step down.
Suhr responded at the meeting to criticism of comments he made the week after the shooting, in which he suggested the officers that shot Woods were justified in their actions.
“I spoke to the facts as I knew them at the time and spoke to the policy that officers were allowed to discharge their weapons,” Suhr said Wednesday night, minutes after several people called for him to resign or be fired during the public-comment period.
Suhr said a series of steps are being taken to prevent such shootings.
The steps include:
adding de-escalation tactics to officer firearms training;
adding more non-lethal options, such as Tasers and shields, to police arsenals;
a new policy, which took effect last month, requiring officers to file a report justifying their actions any time they point a gun at a person.
Police Commission President Suzy Loftus announced plans to hold a series of community meetings to get feedback on revamping the police department’s use-of-force policy. She said the commission hopes to present a new, draft use-of-force policy to the mayor’s office by Feb. 15.
“This commission has heard expressions of grief, disappointment and anger,” Loftus said. “People have also come forward with suggestions, and we will consider all policy improvement recommendations.”
Several residents at the meeting disapproved of plans to equip officers with Tasers, saying that would not solve the systemic problems of racism that many believe plague the department.
“We had the same research five years ago on deaths by Tasers and inappropriate use of Tasers,” San Francisco resident Tes Welborn told the commission. “We need a different kind of training system that teaches officers about serving and protecting.”
Suhr responded that all commanding officers, including him, have undergone implicit-bias training, and that the training will be extended to all officers by the end of 2016.
Some citizens voiced anger about the texting scandal, revealed in a federal corruption probe last year, which found eight to 14 officers had exchanged racist and homophobic text messages. The texts included disturbing comments calling African-Americans “monkeys” and saying “Its [sic] not against the law to put an animal down.”
The city attorney’s office is appealing a state court ruling that found the department waited too long to take disciplinary action against nine of those officers. Due to litigation, the officers continue to receive paychecks while under suspension.
Suhr said he was “disgusted” by the text messages and that he immediately sent eight officers to the Police Commission to be fired when he found out.
“There’s no place in this department for those officers, and I believe they will face termination,” Suhr said.
Last week, Suhr met with an advisory committee of black community leaders to discuss recommendations for reform and rebuilding trust with the black community.
Suggestions included cultural competency training for officers, increased emphasis on community-oriented policing, and fostering more interaction between senior officers and community leaders in minority neighborhoods.
Suhr said he has invited the Department of Justice to review the city’s policies, procedures and training, for more guidance on developing best practices for resolving critical incidents without use of force. The chief denied one citizen’s comment that inviting the Justice Department in to help was a “P.R. stunt.”
Such and the commission said they plan to incorporate recommendations from President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing into their redrafting of department policies.
Loftus said the commission will release a schedule for its community meetings on overhauling use of force policies by next week, and present a new draft policy to Mayor Ed Lee in February.
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