Latest Racist Texts Renew Calls For State, Feds (Anybody!) To Probe SF Police

Why won't anyone pay attention to misbehaving San Francisco police? Both Public Defender Jeff Adachi and the San Francisco-based American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California would like to know — and would like the state Attorney General and/or the federal Justice Department to take a long, hard look at the SFPD cops behaving badly.

Yesterday, Adachi sent a lengthy, detailed letter to Harris (just a few years ago, San Francisco's District Attorney) outlining the recent discovery of yet another rash of racist and homophobic text messages sent and received by San Francisco police officers. And the ACLU sent its own letter — at five pages, almost twice as lengthy as Adachi's — to the feds. Both ask for a civil rights investigation, and both say the same things: a minority of cops are out of control, citizens have had it, something must be done — and it needs to be bigger and better than prior attempts to right the ship, as they have not worked.

[jump] The ACLU brings up a few things that have been lost in the dialogue about racist texts and racially-biased arrest and incarceration data: previous moves towards police oversight have failed. Out of over 2,000 officers on the force, 360 were flagged as problems by the department's “early intervention system,” in which officers who generate too many use-of-force complaints are brought aside for counseling and intervention. Out of that 360, only six officers received “any supervisory intervention at all,” the ACLU pointed out, “a shockingly low number.”

Cops were also dinged for not letting the public know about the latest racist texts — discovered in August by an SFPD internal review into allegations that erstwhile Taraval station Officer Jason Lai committed a rape; not released to the public until last week, and then only by the District Attorney. This all adds up to a “pattern” of downplaying problems and hiding them from the public, the letters say.

This may also foil the current reform efforts underway before they can even truly begin. The DOJ was in town recently for “listening sessions” ahead of a “collaborative review” by the DOJ's COPS Office. Mayor Ed Lee and police Chief Greg Suhr have spoken highly of the reforms to be suggested by a COPS review; the problem is that those recommendations are voluntary — they are not binding. These listening sessions were marked by “deep community-based skepticism,” and the handling of the texts and the failure to handle the problem cops are all reasons why, according to the ACLU.

Baltimore, keep in mind, had a deep review of police patterns and practice following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.

“We would hope that it would not take another officer-involved shooting death of a young man of color (such as Mario Woods) to convince DOJ to initiate a pattern and practice investigation in San Francisco,” the ACLU writes.

Other Bay Area police departments have cleaned house under court order; the most prominent local example is Oakland, where a federal judge oversaw reforms in the wake of the Riders scandal.

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