Department of Justice Says San Francisco Police Have ‘Institutionalized Bias’

After a six-month investigation into the department’s practices and policies, the Justice Department urges the SFPD to make major changes.

San Francisco police cars parked in front of the Hall of Justice on Feb. 27, 2014, in San Francisco.
San Francisco police cars parked in front of the Hall of Justice on Feb. 27, 2014, in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

After six months investigating the San Francisco Police Department, the U.S. Department of Justice has found disparities in traffic stops, post-stop searches and use of deadly force against African Americans, as well as implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups.

The investigation, prompted by the shooting death of Mario Woods at the hands of San Francisco police, looked into six areas, and the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) released its findings in a 432-page report (pdf) Wednesday.

In the report’s executive summary, Ronald Davis, director of COPS, said, “We found a department with concerning deficiencies in every operational area assessed: use of force; bias; community policing practices; accountability measures; and recruitment, hiring, and promotion practices.”

The DOJ identified 94 findings and provided 272 recommendations for improvement within the SFPD. The investigation found serious deficiencies in the way the SFPD collects, maintains and analyzes data related to officer use of force. Additionally, the DOJ suggests that the use-of-force policies currently in place are out-of-date.

The report notes that the majority of use-of-force incidents within the department involved people of color, and the SFPD does not adequately investigate officer use of force.

In the area of bias, the DOJ found that “the weight of the evidence indicates that African-American drivers were disproportionately stopped compared to their representation in the driving population.”

The DOJ also found that the SFPD does not collect data around community policing; nor does it measure success within community-policing functions and programs.

The SFPD has also failed to close investigations into officer-involved shootings: The department has been involved in nine instances of deadly use of force, and only one of those investigations has been closed.

Among the 272 recommendations made by the DOJ:

  • The SFPD must work with the city and county of San Francisco to develop a process that provides for timely, transparent and factual outcomes for officer-involved shooting incidents.
  • The SFPD should develop and publish a comprehensive strategy to address bias.
  • The SFPD should expand its current reporting process on complaints, discipline and officer-involved shootings to identify ways to create better transparency for the community regarding officer misconduct.

This report comes out at a time when the SFPD’s Police Commission is considering a list of candidates to replace former Chief Greg Suhr, who resigned in May after an officer shot an unarmed black woman who was driving a stolen car, SF Gate reports.

“This is what we asked for,” Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said. “We asked for an unflinching, honest assessment of where the department is at, where are their weaknesses, where the gaps are, and we got it. There is a lot of work to do.”

Read more at the DOJ’s COPS Office (pdf) and SFGate.