Four San Francisco Supervisors Call for Removal of Embattled Police Chief - NBC Bay Area
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Four San Francisco Supervisors Call for Removal of Embattled Police Chief

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    Four San Francisco supervisors on Wednesday called for Police Chief Greg Suhr to be replaced, becoming the first top-level San Francisco elected officials to do so after months of sustained calls from activists for his removal. Terry McSweeney reports. (Published Wednesday, May 11, 2016)

    Four San Francisco supervisors on Wednesday called for Police Chief Greg Suhr to be replaced, becoming the first top-level San Francisco elected officials to do so after months of sustained calls from activists for his removal.

    Supervisor Jane Kim issued a statement Wednesday morning urging Mayor Ed Lee and the San Francisco Police Commission to begin a search for "a new chief who can implement fundamental reform."

    "Chief Greg Suhr has served San Francisco for over 30 years and we should thank him for that service," Kim said. "But even he must acknowledge that leading a culture shift in that department would be easier and faster if there was new leadership there."

    Kim's call came after months of protests triggered by recent police shootings, as well as by revelations of racist text messages exchanged among officers. Most recently, protests centered around a group of hunger strikers calling for Suhr's removal drew hundreds of people to City Hall last week and over the weekend.

    Kim also cited the preliminary results of a blue ribbon panel convened by District Attorney George Gascon, released on Monday, which found problems in the San Francisco Police Department in areas including oversight, accountability and data collection, disciplinary procedures and racial bias in policing.

    "It is clear that we need a change to address these systemic problems and bring our city together," Kim said.

    Supervisors David Campos, John Avalos and Eric Mar joined Kim's call for Suhr's removal a short time later.

    "After the public unrest and the revelations of the last week, I don't have a lot of confidence in Chief Suhr's ability and commitment to implement the substantive reforms that are needed in the police department," Avalos said.

    Mar said that while he had "nothing but respect" for Suhr's efforts to reform the department, the city needed to bring in someone from outside the department with a "national perspective."

    "I agree that we need a new police chief," he said. "It should be a national search, and somebody who can effectively deal with systemic racism and bigotry and rebuild trust in our community."

    Lee has said repeatedly that he will not ask Suhr to step down, but instead plans to focus on efforts to reform the department.

    Lee and Suhr have announced reforms in recent months including a review of use of force policies, improved officer training in areas including implicit racial bias, conflict de-escalation and crisis intervention, and programs urging officers to turn in other officers who use racially derogatory language. The department is also working with the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services on a review of department practices and policies.

    On Tuesday Lee announced $17.5 million in funding on Tuesday for improved police training and equipment, violence prevention programs and increased staffing for the Office of Citizen Complaints, which investigates officer misconduct cases.

    "The community has asked us to fast track change and not put politics before police reforms and, unfortunately, that is exactly what this does," Lee said today in response to Kim's statement.

    "No other city is working faster or more deliberately on police reforms. Anyone, including the supervisor, who wants to work with us to advance these reforms and not impede and delay our efforts is welcome to join us in this important work," Lee said.

    In response to Kim, Supervisor Mark Farrell stepped in to express support for Suhr, saying "there has not been a more progressive police chief in San Francisco history."

    "There is no one better to lead our police department and implement the upcoming reforms than Chief Suhr himself," Farrell said.

    "Supervisor Kim is displaying election year politics at its worst, and it makes my stomach churn," he added, in a reference to Kim's current run for a state Senate seat against Supervisor Scott Wiener.

    Wiener on Wednesday said that he supported Suhr and his efforts to introduce reforms needed to reduce officer-involved shootings.

    "We have serious work to do to improve public safety in San Francisco and to formulate and implement much-needed reforms," he said. "Firing the chief - and calling for his firing in order to generate press headlines - won't help achieve either of those goals," Wiener said in a statement.

    The calls for Suhr's removal came on the heels of yet another negative press report this week regarding a police officer who allegedly made statements with racial and sexual overtones. Police on Friday announced that the officer had been referred to the Police Commission with a recommendation for discipline up to possible termination.

    However, civil rights attorney John Burris today cited the incident in a call for Suhr's resignation and an independent investigation into the department by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

    In a press conference outside San Francisco's Hall of Justice, accompanied by members of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition, Burris said recently revealed racist statements made by officers in text messages or in person have occurred under Suhr's watch.

    "It defies common sense for us to accept the notion that he is the one to lead the charge in the reform effort," Burris said.

    Burris also repeated calls for a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, saying the current COPS review "has no teeth."

    Lee said Monday that he asked the justice department to investigate the Mario Woods shooting several months ago, but was recently told that officials there are waiting on the results of local investigations before deciding whether to proceed.

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