DOJ calls out San Francisco police over bias, lack of accountability for officers who kill

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing assessment of policing practices in San Francisco, which criticizes officers for stopping black and Latinos motorists more than they did whites. Officers in the 2,168-member department also used force against citizens with little to no accoutability from their superiors.

The investigation of unconstitutional policing was, in part, prompted by the death of Mario Woods, a 26-year-old black man fatally shot by officers in December 2015. The death sparked protests from local Black Lives Matter activists, and subsequent events led to the resignation of former Chief Greg Suhr.

SFPD leaders have done a shoddy job of documenting and investigating officers' use of force and have been providing ineffective anti-bias training for officers, according to the DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services assessment, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The SFPD isn't transparent about its disciplinary process for officers who are implicated in misconduct, COPS investigators found.

Demonstrators hold up signs outside of a San Francisco police commission meeting.Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

The 413-page report offered 272 recommendations for how the department could change the prevailing narrative about its force — that officers exhibit racial bias. The damning assessment comes during a year in which the SFPD has been rocked by scandals over officers' racist and homophobic text messages, along with several officer-involved shootings in neighborhoods of color.

However, COPS investigators said they found no evidence of "racial bias by officers of the SFPD or by the agency as a whole," even though the city logged 219 bias-related allegations between 2013-2015, none of which were substantiated by internal investigators. The report said the department failed to adequately address those concerns, further straining police relations in a city that was once home to a vibrant African-American community considered the "Harlem of the West."

A protester stands outside of the San Francisco Police Department headquarters.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The report also found that officers disproportionately stopped African-American drivers and noted that black and Latino drivers were more likely to be searched, arrested and warned by officers than whites.

Nationally, blacks are 30% more likely than whites to be pulled over by police, three times as likely to be searched, twice as likely to be arrested and twice as likely to be shot by police, according to law enforcement data recently cited by President Barack Obama.

Mayor Ed Lee, who requested the DOJ investigation, told the Chronicle he would direct SFPD brass to implement all 272 recommendations "as soon as possible." In a statement, acting Chief Toney Chaplin said he was committed to doing the needed work. "San Francisco has the second oldest police department in the nation, and it shows," he said.

The COPS office said will work with SFPD over the next 18 months, and will provide two progress reports in that time.

COPS director Ronald Davis wrote in a statement that the report's recommendations "provide an opportunity for the police department to address these deficiencies and advance the police department to meet the best practices of 21st century policing."