The San Francisco Police Department stops and searches African Americans at a disproportionately high rate and does not adequately investigate officers using force, a Justice Department review found.
The review — released Wednesday by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — uncovered “numerous indicators of implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups,” along with insufficient training and data collection. It found the vast majority of those killed by police were people of color.
While the Justice Department credited the San Francisco police with being “open, cooperative, and willing to make changes,” the 432-page report identified no shortage of problems.
“This is going to take some time, and it’s going to require a significant amount of focus and resources,” said Ronald Davis, the Justice Department’s director of Community Oriented Policing Services.
The San Francisco Police Department said in a statement it had or would implement the Justice Department’s recommendations. Suzy Loftus, the president of the San Francisco Police Commission, which oversees the department, said the commission had already asked department leaders to create a matrix of how and when reforms were being implemented.
Justice Department officials announced the review earlier this year, as protests raged over the death of 26-year-old Mario Woods, who was shot and killed by police. That was one of a number of high-profile incidents that raised tensions between residents and police. As Justice Department investigators were doing their work, two city police officers shot and killed a homeless man, and it was revealed that a group of officers exchanged bigoted text messages. The department’s chief, Greg Suhr, was removed in May, hours after a police officer in the city fatally shot a woman.
The review, while significant, will not immediately carry with it the same force as an investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. While it makes 272 specific recommendations, the review is not a court-enforceable agreement.
Instead it relies on the department’s cooperation and local leaders to reforms. Davis said if the department fails to meet its promises, the Civil Rights Division could still pursue more heavy-handed legal action.
Police departments across the country are grappling with many of the same problems as San Francisco. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, for example, found that Baltimore police had for years engaged in racially discriminatory policing that targeted black residents, and the division is investigating similar concerns in Chicago.
In San Francisco, the Justice Department found that there was minimal documentation of use-of-force incidents, including no routine collection of photo evidence and limited analysis of the evidence from each event. If a supervisor didn’t respond, the Justice Department found, it was left “to the officer who used force to complete the investigation, which is unacceptable.”
The Justice Department also found that African American drivers were 24 percent more likely to be stopped by the police than their estimated representation in the driving population, though the report asserted that available data did not necessarily imply the existence of racial profiling. African American and Hispanic drivers also were disproportionately searched without consent following traffic stops — even though data showed they were less likely to be found with contraband than white people.
Fatal shootings by officers also almost always involved minorities; from May 2013 to May 2016, nine of the 11 killed by police were people of color, the Justice Department found.
“Those disparities are contributing to why the community does not trust the San Francisco Police Department,” Davis said.
The Justice Department advised San Francisco to review each incident and try to understand what might have caused the disparity. All but one remain under investigation.