Panel Focuses Ire on|SFPD Officers’ Union

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — As tensions boil over police and minority communities across the nation, an independent panel Monday released a scathing report calling for urgent reforms in the San Francisco Police Department and the police officers’ union.
     The Blue Ribbon Panel, chaired by three former state and federal judges, found the SFPD lacks transparency and oversight and must take stronger steps to eliminate racial bias in hiring and policing.
     San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon formed the panel in May 2015 after a federal corruption probe uncovered a string of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged by 14 city police officers.
     The panel’s 249-page report was especially critical of the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association (POA), the labor union that represents all but a dozen officers, according to panel member and former Santa Clara County Judge LaDoris Cordel.
     “Findings show the San Francisco Police Department for all practical purposes is really run by the POA,” Cordell said at a Monday news conference. “The POA leadership sets the tone for the police department, and historically, it’s been an ugly one.”
     Cordel said the union intimidated officers who wanted to talk to the panel but “expressed fear of retaliation.”
     She said officers who wanted to speak had to “be vetted” by the union before they could meet with the task force.
     Union president Martin Halloran on Monday called the panel “a kangaroo court” and accused the district attorney of irresponsibly “lighting a match” on a tinderbox by releasing the report at a “divisive time,” after five officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas on Thursday.
     “Gascon organized this whole charade to publicize his inflammatory claims of widespread racism in the police department, when in fact the problem is much more limited in scope,” Halloran said in a statement. “This panel is nothing more than a kangaroo court orchestrated by Gascon and the three puppets he handpicked.”
     Cordel rejected the police union’s claims that two waves of city police officers exchanging racist text messages were merely “isolated incidents.”
     She cited an example from the report in which former POA President Gary Delagnes, now a paid consultant for the union, called officers “trained snitches” on Facebook after they reported a police sergeant for making racist and sexist comments.
     “Delagnes’s message was clear: police officers were not supposed to ‘snitch’ on other police officers, especially not for making biased and bigoted statements,” the report states.
     Cordel noted that the SFPD’s Internal Affairs division, tasked with ensuring the integrity of the department, is regarded as “unimportant, not respected” and viewed as a dead-end assignment that will not result in promotion for a police officer.
     Unlike San Francisco, Cordel said, the Internal Affairs division of the San Jose Police Department is seen as the highest step beneath the chief, and serving in that unit is often viewed as a clear avenue for promotion.
     In the wake of recent police shootings, including the death of 26-year-old Mario Woods, who was shot 21 times by five San Francisco officers last December, the department has implemented new use-of-force policies.
     However, the Blue Ribbon Panel found that no agency audits the SFPD on a regular basis to make sure it complies with its stated policies and general orders.
     The task force also found the department fails to keep much of its data in an organized and accessible manner that would allow the public or an independent auditor to uncover patterns of racial or gender bias.
     “They keep the data on paper files,” said attorney Colin West of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, who worked on the report. “The data is hard to access, hard to collate and impossible for someone to do a statistical analysis.”
     The report found that black and Latino people were more likely to be stopped and searched by police than any other group, and those searches were less likely to find illegal drugs or weapons.
     The panel concluded its report with 81 recommended improvements in hiring, oversight, data retention, internal discipline, use of force and other areas.
     None of the recommendations are binding, and only the mayor and San Francisco Board of Supervisors can act on the panel’s findings.
     The department has agreed to submit to a voluntary, collaborative review by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Orientated Polices Services, which started in January. That review, which is expected to take two years, will also result in non-binding recommendations.
     In May, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, a 34-year veteran, resigned after an officer shot an unarmed, 27-year-old, black woman who had crashed a stolen car into a parked truck.
     Toney Chaplin, a 26-year veteran of the department, was appointed interim chief in May and pledged he would focus on reforms.
     The Police Commission, the legislative board that oversees the SFPD, is expected to discuss the Blue Ribbon Panel’s findings at its weekly meeting Wednesday.
     The document is called the “Report of The Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement.”

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