Mayor Lee Turns Dolores Park Tour Into Impromptu Press Conference Defending Police Chief Suhr

Mayor Ed Lee swore today that virtually everything about policing in San Francisco will change, except one big thing: Police Chief Greg Suhr stays.

“We’re just not there,” Lee said, in response to a reporter’s question about protesters’ demands that Suhr be handed his walking papers.

The mayor insisted that our chief is not only doing the best he can, but is also “leading the way” on reforms stemming from the death of Mario Woods, a 26-year-old African-American shot and killed by San Francisco police in the Bayview a little over a month ago.

Lee stopped in the middle of a tour of the newly renovated Dolores Park — reopening next week — for questions from a scrum of reporters about his meeting yesterday with the city’s African American Advisory Council. The tour then segued into a mini-press conference while framed by the Dolores Park playground, with children frolicking only a few feet away. Which, yeah, was a little weird.

[jump] Even as protesters vow to crash the mayor's inauguration at City Hall tomorrow, Lee promised reform top to bottom, from revising use of force guidelines, to issuing cops less lethal tools — such as Tasers and shields — to training officers in de-escalation techniques.

He even (gingerly) acknowledged the need for a cultural change, noting that “bias, unconscious or otherwise” affects policing, and that holistic attitudes have to extend “beyond just management, down to every single police officer.”

Lee also brought in the big guns (if you’ll pardon the phrase) and invoked President Obama, noting that the White House has proposed sweeping Justice Department guidelines on police use of force, an idea the mayor was swift to hitch the city’s wagon to.

But he drew a hard line at canning the chief.

Rather, the mayor committed to helping Suhr “rebuild trust,” noting that the Bayview and surrounding neighborhoods had long been treated like the neglected stepchildren of City Hall.

(He also said that he felt a personal responsibility to “touch youth” who were in danger of being lost to the streets. Not the best way to phrase that sentiment, but the gist is clear.)

The mayor’s not just whistling Dixie on that one, but it’s doubtful that his comments about a “culture of anger” in neglected communities will help with that trust thing.

Doubtful, too, is the prospect that any step short of Suhr’s head (or resignation, at least) on a platter will convince activists the mayor’s not just playing politics when he says he cares. Calls for Suhr's resignation reached a fever pitch in the days following Woods' death.

It’s impossible to imagine that no one in the department anticipated that a rising national tide of disgruntlement about police killing young black men would come to San Francisco sooner rather than later. And, yet, they still seemed to be caught flat-footed when it happened, and the chief’s response in the first days after Woods’ death — standing by his officers and citing established protocol — seemed dispassionate and dismissive.

Now the battle lines are drawn. The mayor has planted his flag firmly on one side: He’s sticking by his guy, much like an old school beat cop would stick by his partner. Come what may.

[In this week's issue of SF Weekly, Chief Suhr talked about his future and the reforms he has in store for the SFPD. Click here to read.]

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