Attorney General Griffin Bell yesterday ordered a massive Justice Department discrimination suit charging San Francisco's police department with a long history of exclusion and harassment of minorities and women.
The suit is expected to parallel and consolidate with a private 4 1/2-year-old lawsuit. The case has so deeply shaken this city's image of good humored tolerance that the angry exchanges have begun sounding like early Deep South civil rights battles.
Obscene racial epithets and drawings, of chimpanzees dressed as police officers are presented as plaintiffs' evidence. Statistics are offered comparing San Francisco's minority police hiring - unfavorably - to that of Jackson, Miss.
And Jerry Crowley, head of the city's Police Officers Association, today bitterly denounced Justice Department attorneys as "a bunch of carpetbaggers coming in from the federal government."
The original discrimination suit was filed in April, 1973, by Officers for Justice, a mostly black police group, and three dozen other individuals and minority organizations. The suit accuses the police department of maintaining a dismal hiring record in a city where less than half the population is white. Of the department's approximately 1,700 members, 6 per cent are black, 4 per cent Latino, 1 per cent Asian and 1 per cent of other minority groups.
Those minorities who have been hired, the suit charges, have entered a police department that "today is a safe and hospitable sanctuary for police officers who engage in infantile and often socially destructive racial baiting and harassment of minority officers."
San Francisco stands to lose $68 million in back pay and damages sought, and $80 million in threatened revenue sharing funds. The private lawsuit seeks immediate hiring of 20 Chinese-American officials and complete integration of the department within 10 years.
City officials, including Mayor George F. Moscone, have met with the plaintiffs several times recently in an effort to reach settlement before the case goes to trial, now scheduled March 21. Another meeting is scheduled Wednesday.
Members of the Police Officers Association, which filed a brief in the private suit and has been named as an additional defendant in the Justice Department suit, have characterized both lawsuits as an effort to replace San Francisco's merit system with quotas that ignore individual qualifications. They claim the lack of minority officers on the city having inadequate affirmative action plans. The San Francisco Police Department has "a hell of a lot more harmony than most police departments in the country," Crowley said.