As it happens, last month a "Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement" issued a 270-some page report on bias in the San Francisco Police Department. After racist, sexist and homophobic text messages among officers were revealed in the course of prosecutions, District Attorney George Gascón assembled a high-powered volunteer investigative group. (The text messages are in the report if you want to make yourself sick.) He persuaded retired Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell, along with retired U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian and retired California Supreme Court Judge Cruz Reynoso to lead dozens of volunteer attorneys in looking at the SFPD. The panel had no subpoena power, but despite stonewalling from the police union (POA), it documented a range of unprofessional and biased practices, most all of which persist because of the absence of effective community control.
The Blue Ribbon Panel laid out a concise description of the ostensible governing structure of city law enforcement. Many of us who have worked to prevent further police killings of unarmed civilians have found all this quite opaque, so I'll quote some of it here.
Looks like lots of bureaucracy, but darn little effective control.
And it gets worse:
Even if the Commissioners wanted to bring the cops under control -- and some perhaps do -- the full time leadership of the SFPD can easily run bureaucratic circles around these well meaning part-timers.
And that conclusion is reinforced by the panel's observation on the conduct of the Police Officers Association (POA). The union not only does the job of a labor organization, ensuring its members receive good pay and benefits and fair treatment. According to the Blue Ribbon Panel, the POA also aims to run the entire institution in parallel to the ostensible, but ineffectual, administrative structure, to effectively set policies, to evade any community oversight, and maintain a sexually and racially exclusive old boys' club. More from the panel:
No wonder lots of San Franciscans look at the SFPD and see just another bullying gang, this one with legal authority to shoot.
San Franciscans are struggling to rein in a police department which has killed five civilians in the last two years in circumstances in which officers' justifications for their use of force strain credulity. Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Pat, and Jessica Williams are dead. No officer has been charged or (as far as we know) disciplined. In fact, since 2000, the SFPD has killed 40 civilians; no officers have been charged. A culture of impunity in the SFPD is not new; in the over 40 years I've lived in this city, new cases involving officers mistreating residents have recurred over and over. Calls for reform seem to achieve little. I plan to write an occasional post "for the record" recalling some of these incidents and the community struggles for more justice.