SFPD in Need of ‘Greater Transparency,' Must Rebuild Trust with Communities of Color: Report

The embattled San Francisco Police Department has a significant overhaul to consider amid findings from a year-long investigation that pried open the department's integrity.

That's according to the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement, whose members issued a report Monday, finding that the department "is in need of greater transparency, lacks robust oversight, must rebuild trust with the communities it serves, and should pay greater attention to the potential for bias against people of color, with respect to both its own police officers and members of the public."

Key findings from the report indicate that black and Latino people were searched without consent at rates far higher than white and Asian people and complaints made about the department did not result in adequate discipline.

The San Francisco police department vowed to take the criticism to heart.

"The department will conduct an analysis of the report over the next few weeks, and forward a copy to the U.S. Department of Justice to be considered for inclusion in its comprehensive review of the police department," the San Francisco Police Department said in a statement on Monday.

Offering a fix to mitigate the issues at hand, the panel recommends that an Office of Inspector General be created to frequently audit the department and the complaints office.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association said the panel is tainted, starting with its creator, District Attorney George Gascon, and blasted the report as biased. But one city official sees value in it.

"I’m not surprised with the POA’s position," Supervisor Malia Cohen said. "Hopefully it will soften, and they’ll come around to see there’s some validity and truth to what the report is telling us."

Cohen said she needs three more weeks to draft legislation for an oversight committee in time for the November ballot.

The report is a result of a year-long investigation by the panel, which was launched in May 2015, following concerns over public reports that 14 San Francisco police officers sent and received racist and homophobic text messages.

The investigation included interviews with over 100 witnesses, analysis of publicly available policies and reports, and revision of relevant data from the police department.

Anand Subramanian, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Panel, on Monday told NBC Bay Area that getting this information wasn’t easy, and was a process that took several months of negotiating with the police department.

"Gaining access to information from the department was difficult," Subramanian said. "That speaks to issues concerning transparency."

The panel consisted of three retired federal and state judges from jurisdictions outside of San Francisco—Justice Cruz Reynoso, Judge LaDoris H. Cordell and Judge Dickran M. Tevrizian Jr.— as well as eight law firms helping the panel on a pro bono basis.

According to the panel, the District Attorney’s Office asked the Blue Ribbon Panel to perform two main tasks: Review the approximately 4,000 incident reports revolving around the text message scandal, and study whether bias is institutionalized within the SFPD.

Cordell said some officers are afraid to speak up, even when they witness racial bias among fellow officers.

"When you read this report, you'll see there were officers afraid to come talk to these folks, and the ones who did talk demanded anonymity," Cordell said. "They wouldn’t give their names because they were afraid they were going to be harmed."

Subramanian hoped the report would improve the relationship between the police department and communities in San Francisco, especially people of color.

"Recent events have definitely proved we’re in a crisis. The trust between police and the public is close to rock bottom," Subramanian said. "To really prove trust, you need a department transparent enough to allow the public to hold it accountable."

Both the mayor's office and the Police Department released statements in response to the report:

Mayor's office statement

We encourage the collaborative efforts of all agencies and individuals that are coming to the table with the city to move forward our justice and police reforms. We thank the Blue Ribbon Committee for their efforts.

We are making critical investments to rebuild trust with our communities and are changing how our police officers handle conflicts. We recently adopted a revised Use of Force Policy that focuses on using minimal force. The entire force is currently receiving implicit bias and cultural competency training. We are investing in body cameras and funding enhanced de-escalation training. We have provided new funding for oversight of the Police Department and are still working under the full review of the U.S. Department of Justice.

We will continue to work collaboratively with the community to improve leadership, transparency and accountability within the San Francisco Police Department and strengthen policies, procedures, training and equipment to keep both residents and police officers safe.

Police Department statement

The Department has received the report by the Blue Ribbon Panel. We appreciate the efforts of the Panel members. The Department will conduct an analysis of the report over the next few weeks and forward a copy to the US Department of Justice to be considered for inclusion in its comprehensive review of the Police Department.

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