San Francisco Unveils Roadmap for Police Reforms

San Francisco Mayor London Breed talks to reporters inside the community room of the city’s newest Navigation Center. (Courthouse News photo/Maria Dinzeo)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Amid nationwide protests against police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, San Francisco on Thursday unveiled a roadmap for police reforms that local officials say could become a model for law enforcement agencies across the nation.

“For too long, black people have been subjected to violence at the hands of people in power,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said during a virtual round table Thursday. “Now is the time that we can make sure that these demonstrations we see are translated into real action.”

Breed held a one-hour discussion on racial justice and police reform with San Francisco Police Chief William “Bill” Scott, social justice advocate Van Jones and former San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen on Thursday after releasing her blueprint for reforming local law enforcement.

The plan calls for demilitarizing the police, ending police responses to emergency calls for noncriminal activity, reforming hiring and training practices to root out bias and redirecting some police funding toward community investments.

“The initiatives Mayor Breed is announcing today are consistent with our department’s commitment to the Collaborative Reform Initiative and our aspiration to make the San Francisco Police Department a national model in 21st Century policing,” Chief Scott said in a statement Thursday.

Speaking at the roundtable Thursday, CNN commentator Jones said he hopes San Francisco can lead the way in showing the rest of the nation what a reimagined 21st century police force can look like.

“I cannot tell you how important it is for you to create a model, a reinvented police presence in San Francisco that can license people across the country to do the same,” he said.

Demilitarizing police is a key component of the new model. Mayor Breed is directing the department to ban military-grade weapons, including bayonets, tanks and chemical weapons such as tear gas.

The plan calls for the SFPD to get rid of such weapons by 2021 and to create safeguards ensuring the department separates itself from federal grants that provide “weapons of attack used against the community.”

The mayor is also ordering the city to develop a plan over the next year to change who responds to calls involving mental health crises and homeless issues. She is asking the city to look toward models such as the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (Cahoots) program used in Eugene, Oregon, in which medics and crisis intervention workers respond to mental health 911 calls.

The plan further calls for audits of law enforcement hiring and promotional exams to make sure they include testing for bias and abuse of force. The mayor is also directing the department to strengthen its “affirmative duty to act” policy and ensure officers who violate that policy face discipline in a transparent manner.

Additionally, the mayor is joining Los Angeles in calling for some police department funding to be transferred to programs and organizations that help underserved communities. Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed to divert $100 to $150 million from the city’s $1.8 billion police budget to invest in resources and services for communities of color. San Francisco has not yet specified how much money it will cut from its $611 million police budget.

San Francisco is already in the process of implementing 272 recommendations issued by the Obama administration’s Justice Department under a voluntary collaborative reform process. The city agreed to participate in that program after rising calls for reform following the fatal police shooting of Mario Woods in December 2015.

After the Trump administration ended the practice of working with local police departments on reform efforts in 2017, the California Department of Justice stepped in to audit San Francisco’s implementation of recommended changes.

In a progress report released in March, a California deputy attorney general complained that the SFPD’s progress in implementing the reforms has been “too slow.” The city has complied with 61 of the 272 recommendations.

During the virtual roundtable Thursday, Chief Scott said he is proud that the city was found to be in substantial compliance with half of the 58 recommendations that deal specifically with use of force. The city adopted a new use of force policy in December 2016 that banned officers from shooting at moving cars or using the Carotid restraint chokehold technique.

“That was fundamental and instrumental in guiding the change,” Scott said.

The chief added that many delays stem from the department’s commitment to putting systems in place that will prevent backsliding away from reforms. He also touted the city’s execution of enhanced data collection on race and other demographics of those stopped by police to help identify patterns of bias.

“It’s still a challenge,” Scott said of the reform efforts. “We’ve got a long way to, but we’re making progress.”

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