S.F. mayor Ed Lee outlines reforms in wake of Mario Woods killing
By Vivian Ho
Demonstrators chalked up the ground outside Hall of Justice in protest of alleged police brutality and those killed by police officers, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in San Francisco, Calif. Mario Woods was shot an ... more
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee responded Wednesday to the outcry over the police killing of Mario Woods with an outline of proposed and pending reforms and a directive to Police Chief Greg Suhr and the city’s Police Commission to submit any additional policy and budget proposals by next month.
In a memo to the Board of Supervisors, the mayor added to the Police Commission’s ongoing discussion about the department’s training, use-of-force policies and weaponry by including a directive for the department to enroll in President Obama’s Police Data Initiative, with a goal of creating more transparency and accountability.
Lee’s working plan for police use of force, which commits the city and the Police Department to “a primary goal of preventing unnecessary officer-involved shootings,” also includes the creation of a new cultural competency course for officers as well as an expansion of training on how to avoid or limit subconscious bias.
Lee said in an interview that he wanted the memo to send a message that he is “very serious about these changes.” The mayor’s office had prepared the memo for a Wednesday meeting with the city’s African American Advisory Forum.
“It is really a key element of our ability to be a successful city, to make sure we speak to our African American community in a way that breeds even more trust,” he said. “For us to get to a point where we really have a practice and a policy that lethal force is the last resort, we have to get more dialogue, we have to get more African Americans involved in the Police Department, we have to make sure that they can go to other agencies and they know what we’re doing, and I need to be out there making sure beyond all this that everything I’m doing is transparent as well.”
Lee’s memo is the latest promise of reform following the Dec. 2 killing of Woods, which drew outrage when video of the black man’s death surfaced showing that he was shot several times while not appearing to directly threaten a group of officers surrounding him. Some critics have called for Lee to dismiss Suhr.
Police officials said Woods was a suspect in a stabbing and was allegedly armed with the same knife when five officers came upon him in the Bayview neighborhood. They said the officers had no choice but to use lethal force after attempts to disarm Woods with beanbag rounds and pepper spray were unsuccessful.
Since the shooting, the Police Commission has opened up discussion regarding the department’s use-of-force policy for the first time in decades, and Suhr reignited his push to arm officers with stun guns.
The commission had set a Feb. 3 deadline for a new draft proposal for the use-of-force policy — a proposal that would include the decision regarding new weaponry — and Lee asked that the commission and Suhr have any new plans to him by Feb. 15.
“I’m a fan of ambitious deadline,” said Police Commission President Suzy Loftus. “I definitely agree here that there is an urgency of now and a lot of folks with good ideas and solutions that want to understand our direction.”
In addition to the policy talks, the Police Department issued a bulletin requiring officers to file a use-of-force report whenever they point their gun at a person, and some patrol cars are getting equipped with riot shields. Suhr said the department has also changed firearms training to put more of an emphasis on de-escalation and less-lethal options.
Lee highlighted those initiatives in his memo and said he hopes the city’s efforts can help repair trust with the black community. He said he planned to meet with community leaders often.
“My goal is to do as much as I can to restore strong trust,” he said. “For this community, there’s a lot of pain. There are a lot of murders, homicides and fatigue and a lot of stress. I think I need to do work in additional ways to signify that we want to ease that stress out. Because of history and because of perceptions, we need to do a lot more.”
As for calls from some community members that he fire his police chief, Lee said, “We’re not there. We’re in disagreement.
“What we’re doing now goes beyond this chief,” he said. “It goes to how we view public safety, how we operate as a city. This cannot just be a demand about this chief.”
Next week, Suhr, Loftus and Joyce Hicks, executive director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, will travel to Washington D.C. to meet with a Police Executive Research Forum studying the United Kingdom’s de-escalation techniques. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services is also reviewing the department’s policies, at the chief’s behest.
With the February deadline looming, Loftus said at Wednesday’s meeting that the commissioners will be holding a series of informal community meetings across the city to hear from the public regarding any policy changes.
While some commissioners expressed concern over the deadline — “I want to do it right,” said Commissioner Joe Marshall —they agreed it was necessary to move quickly.
“The problem is not new,” said L. Julius Turman, police commission vice president. “We have a base line of information to begin with. Let’s take that information out and start refining that policy and let’s move.”
Vivian Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @VivianHo