SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Two months after a police shooting sparked calls for reform, the U.S. Justice Department said Monday it will launch an independent review into San Francisco’s police department.
The announcement came one week after San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee revealed his request for a federal probe into the death of Mario Woods, a stabbing suspect who was shot dead by five police officers on Dec. 2.
During a press conference Monday, Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch said the collaborative review process will examine the department’s use-of-force policies, data on police stops and searches, and interviews with stakeholders to create reforms aimed at improving the department’s transparency and accountability.
“The mayor and police chief have requested an extensive review of police practices, and that’s what they’ll get,” Stretch said.
Lee said the city is committed to repairing the rift in trust that was opened two months ago when five officers unloaded more than 20 bullets into Woods’ body in the city’s Bayview neighborhood.
“I asked for this because we quite frankly need to repair trust and do that quickly,” Lee said. “When recommendations are made, we’ll seize the opportunity to be a more modern city.”
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said his department is committed to finding better ways for police to disarm suspects brandishing knives or edged weapons. He said the department is also focused on reminding police officers about the importance in protecting the sanctity of life for all people, not just officers.
The review will be conducted by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS. The office is headed by Ronald Davis, who also appeared at the press conference Monday.
“This is about building trust and confidence in the policing community,” Davis said. “The challenge of trust and losing trust is happening across the country.”
Davis said San Francisco is the 10th U.S. police department to voluntarily submit to the collaborative review process, which was first launched in 2011.
When asked why the Justice Department chose to engage in a collaborative process rather than launching a full-blown civil rights investigation into the department, Stretch said the Attorney General’s Office determined the collaborative review was the most appropriate option at this time.
Davis, of the COPS office, said one goal is to take lessons learned from reviewing San Francisco’s police department and apply that knowledge to 16,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States.
He said other cities that embarked on the same process, including Philadelphia and Las Vegas, have managed to successfully reduce deadly police shootings.
Noble Wray, chief of COPS’ policing practices and accountability initiative, said the process will take a total of two years. That includes an eight- to 10-month review of data, policies and interviews followed by a 12- to 14-month assessment of the department’s progress in implementing reforms.
“This is not a short-term solution but a long-term strategy to enhance public trust between the police and the community,” Wray said.
The first phase of the process will involve initial meetings to set goals and objectives followed by interviews with officers, union officials, community leaders and advocates, Wray said.
The first official meeting to kick off San Francisco’s collaborative review process will take place Feb. 24, Davis said.
The COPS office is currently engaged in the same collaborative review process with police departments in Spokane, Washington; St. Louis; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Philadelphia; Milwaukee; and the California cities of Salinas and Calexico.
It has completed the review process in Las Vegas.
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