San Francisco is rethinking our approach to policing, promoting economic justice, demilitarizing the police, addressing police bias, and strengthening accountability
Today marks one year since George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. His death was a tragedy for his family and friends, but also for our country. And it was a wake-up call for so many people who for far too long had been blind to the brutal treatment and racism that Black people, and Black men in particular, face all too often in this country.
George Floyd’s death spurred cities to take a hard look at the way that police interactions with people of color can result in unnecessary violence and even death. How do we, as a society, invest in our communities to address root causes of criminal activity and what alternatives have we developed other than armed police officers to respond to many situations that result from societal inequities, housing insecurity, or mental illness and substance use disorder? We know that decades of disinvestment in the African-American community and racially disparate policies in San Francisco have exacerbated disproportionate harm in Black communities, affecting outcomes from health and wellness to housing insecurity and economic opportunities..
Over the past few years, San Francisco has made progress reforming our police department, but we recognize we still have work to do to make San Francisco a more just and equitable city — a city where everyone is safe and receives the services they need. We should be a city where families do not have to be afraid that their loved one will not return home safely solely on the basis of the color of their skin. Accomplishing this will take more than just reforming our police department. That’s why, in June 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, I laid out my vision for fundamentally changing our vision for public safety and the nature of policing in San Francisco, and to address structural inequities in our city.
Public Safety Reform Roadmap
To achieve this vision, I proposed four priorities:
- Ending the use of police in response to non-criminal activity
- Addressing police bias and strengthening accountability
- Demilitarizing the police
- Promoting economic justice
These four priorities build on San Francisco’s ongoing police reforms, including efforts to strictly limit the use of force and mandating independent investigations every time an officer draws a weapon. Through our work dating back to 2016 to implement reforms initially put forward by the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice, San Francisco has already implemented several best practices that have been shown to reduce police violence including banning chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring de-escalation, prohibiting firing at a moving vehicle, and exhausting all other means before firing a weapon. Additionally, San Francisco requires officers to intervene in cases of excessive use of force, to affirmatively report officer misconduct, to use body-worn cameras, and to use the minimum amount of force necessary when force is used.But as always, there is more to do, and we are continuing to push forward.
Status of Reforms
Over the past year, we have made significant progress in each of these four areas.
End Use of Police as a Response to Non-Criminal Activity
Last year, I announced that San Francisco would work to divert non-violent calls for service away from the San Francisco Police Department to non-law enforcement agencies. Since June 2020, we have moved forward with several initiatives to redirect calls for service from the police to more appropriate responses. I directed that we focus first on the calls involving behavioral health crises, so situations involving individuals in dire need of urgent help due to a substance use disorder and/or mental illness, because of the fraught nature of these situations and the clear need for a clinical and trauma-informed response versus a response by officers with guns without the training to handle people in these types of crises.
I also wanted to focus on this type of call because I have had personal experience watching my own family members who have struggled with mental illness interact with the police. While the police officers who knew my aunt were able to get her home safely more than once, I know it was only through luck and happenstance that my aunt was not hurt during those times. Had she been a physically violent person when she was in crisis, I don’t know if we would have been so fortunate.
In November 2020, we launched the Street Crisis Response Team, which has already been responding to 911 calls for serious behavioral health issues. We’re also moving forward with plans to create response teams that will deal with individuals on the street who are not well, from folks who visibly need first aid care or who aren’t dressed properly for the weather to people who are in a likely overdose situation and need life-saving treatment urgently.
In addition, our Department of Public Health is moving forward on a proposal to replace armed sheriffs at Laguna Honda Hospital, San Francisco General Hospital, and other patient care sites with trained health care professionals and community members. Police officers have been extricated from all public school sites, and the contract between the SFPD and the San Francisco Unified School District has ended. We’re continuing to study and divert other calls for service that include categories such as traffic violations, noise complaints, juveniles out of the control of caregivers, animal-related calls and more.
Address Police Bias and Strengthen Accountability
To reduce police bias, I directed the Department of Human Resources, Department of Police Accountability, and SFPD to identify and screen for indicators of bias, improve training systems, improve data sharing across Departments, and strengthen the SFPD’s Early Intervention System for use of force violations.
The Department of Human Resources has evaluated and revised the SFPD hiring and promotional exams to ensure the City is using industry-best practices in screening candidates. DHR has also reviewed and improved tests to ensure that knowledge of and the ability to enforce policies and procedures related to mitigating bias and inappropriate use of force are tested during the hiring and promotional process. Job suitability is always an important factor when it comes to hiring first responders and especially so when that first responder has the power to use force against you.
We also know that eliminating bias requires having officers who reflect the community they serve. We’re continuing to do that work and we are seeing results. Since 2009, the three year average of the proportion of recruits to our academy has increased from the Black community by 45%, the Latino community by 78%, and the Asian community by 79%. When you talk about removing bias, it starts there. But on-going training in the field is also important.
Moving forward, the SFPD and Police Commission will also strengthen the affirmative duty to act policy and tie any violation to transparent disciplinary action.
Since June 2020, SFPD is in the process of reviewing the use of crowd control tactics and the use of any weapons or equipment that may be considered military-grade. The Department is committed to reinforcing and protecting First Amendment rights and facilitating peaceful protests and demonstrations.
Redirect Funding for Racial Equity
In San Francisco, we have redirected $120 million from law enforcement budgets to serve San Francisco’s Black and African American community. Following a collaborative process with the community, in February this year we issued the plan for how we’re allocating that funding with the creation of the Dream Keeper Initiative. The Dream Keeper Initiative aims to break the cycle of poverty and involvement in the criminal justice system for the families in its City programs and ensure that new investments, including in youth development, economic opportunity, community-led change, arts and culture, workforce, and homeownership, are accessible to San Francisco’s families who are most in need.
Since February 2021, the City has announced funding that has been awarded from the Dream Keeper Initiative, including $3.75 million to serve San Francisco’s Black and African American small business community, $2.2 million to Black trans-serving organizations, and $6 million that is being awarded through a Request for Proposals from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Additional funding is in the process of being awarded.