The San Francisco Board of Supervisors heard from judges and members of the public at their meeting last week to address the findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s report on transparency, accountability and fairness in law enforcement.
The Blue Ribbon panel is an advisory body to the San Francisco district attorney. It was formed in May 2015 after offensive, racist and homophobic text messages from a handful SFPD officers were disclosed to the public by the FBI. The Panel’s job was to begin a cultural study of the SFPD and to bring recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and the SFPD.
“What we know from this history, these instances of misconduct are not isolated instances or aberrations, rather they are part of a 79 year pattern of systemic misconduct and cultural entrenchment within the department,” said Blue Ribbon Panel Judge Ladoris Cordell.
Supervisor John Avalos became flustered during the meeting about the lack of response to the panel’s 85 recommendations for implementing effective policing and policy and asked San Francisco Police Chief Toney Chaplin for “a written report about your timeline for implementing reform based on the Blue Ribbon Panel.”
“We’re taking these reports and using them. And you talk about Blue Ribbon and how do we implement it so fast. We didn’t. We’ve been implementing this stuff,” Chaplin said.
According to the report, the deaths of Alex Nieto on March 21, 2014, and Mario Woods on Dec. 2, 2015 were officer-involved shootings where the officers on scene were cleared to return to duty. This has caused tension between law enforcement and some members of the community.
Two weeks prior to this hearing, members from the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition and Justice for Alex Nieto marched from office to office at City Hall on Sept. 21, filling the offices and looking to speak with supervisors and their aides to support the hearing on the Blue Ribbon Panel report. Two weeks later Supervisor Malia Cohen helped sponsor the hearing.
The report was worked on by seven law firms, two policy firms and three judges to study possible bias in law enforcement. Its aim is to engage the Police Officers Association and to seek reforms to their culture.
One of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations to the SFPD was about department general orders, which handle the policies and procedures of officers, and to make those orders open to the public online without the need for a public records request. The Blue Ribbon Panel also saw that many policies and procedures have not been updated since the 1990s.
The Panel suggested at the Board of Supervisors meeting to create an Office of Inspector General that could regularly audit the SFPD and Office of Citizen Complaints . The report also stated that the police commission should create policies for body-worn camera footage and when to allow their use in disciplinary proceedings.
“If we are talking about true change, we need to have everything revised and looked over and start from the beginning, to go over all the policies about fairness and discrimination,” said SF State’s Black n’ Brown Liberation Coalition organizer Imani Davis.
Davis also said that police structures and any implementations of those policies from SFPD would have an impact on the lives of students and their neighborhoods.
Ghila Andemeskel, a biology major at SF State, said larger actions need to be taken to make changes to SFPD’s transparency.
“I think there’ll be some moderate changes,” Andemeskel said. “There won’t be changes to how they select police chiefs, and the transparency in the selection of the police commission won’t change. Changes like that need to be done on a state level.”