Holding San Francisco accountable on SFPD’s inadequate DOJ COPS progress and process

Prior to the Board of Supervisors’ Oct. 22 hearing on the DOJ Community Oriented Policing (COPS) process, Phelicia Jones, founder of Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods, speaks at a press conference on the steps of City Hall.

“Despite three reports studying Black People in regard to racism in 55 years, Black San Franciscans are worse off than ever before.” – Phelicia Jones, founder, Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods

by Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods

On Oct. 22, 2019, Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods held a press conference on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, at which group founder Phelicia Jones and several group members and others spoke. Later that day, Phelicia Jones and Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods attended a Board of Supervisors (BOS) hearing which was scheduled pursuant to our encouragement – the first of its kind in more than two years.

It was obvious to all who participated in the hearing that there are major problems in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Oriented Policing (COPS) process, under which the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has been working since 2016.

Phelicia Jones speaks to the Supervisors at the hearing, backed by a long line of other San Franciscans waiting their turn to comment.

The US DOJ COPS report containing 272 reform recommendations was issued in 2016 as a result of huge and historic outcry after an epidemic of fatal shootings by SFPD. In 2017 when Trump and US Attorney General Sessions ceased oversight of the COPS program, San Francisco committed to completing the process. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed in February 2018 (by then interim mayor Mark Farrell), giving oversight to the California Department of Justice, the California Attorney General’s Office.

Under the DOJ COPS process, SFPD has been reporting data on a quarterly basis – including per-racial-category data, in areas such as arrests and use of force. When viewing SFPD’s own data in terms of per capita racial categories using US Census data, it is clear that there is stark, ongoing racism in policing of Black and Brown people in San Francisco.

From 2016 through the second quarter of 2019, SFPD’s data shows that more than 10 times as many Black people as White people per capita were targets of use of force and arrests:

This disturbing trend has continued unabated from 2016, when the data collection for reporting started, through 2019. This is an ongoing crisis that requires immediate systemic change.

We provided this information to each of San Francisco’s supervisors during the hearing on Oct. 22 and have since sent a letter to each demanding that future data reports from SFPD be presented based on racial population in the city of San Francisco. It is a well-known fact that the Black population of San Francisco is rapidly declining.

Black men constitute fewer than 3 percent of San Francisco’s total population according to the U.S. Census website yet make up a huge percentage of those on whom SFPD uses force and a huge percentage of those arrested by SFPD.

SFPD presented data at the hearing and, afterward, Hillard Heintze, who was contracted by SFPD and by the California DOJ, gave a presentation. The SFPD and Heintze presentations were largely congratulatory to the SFPD.

It was acknowledged during the hearing that there has not been an on-duty shooting by SFPD in over 18 months – a new record in the city of San Francisco. However, that is no doubt a result of massive community organizing and outcry during 2015-2017, pursuant to the SFPD firing-squad-style execution of Mario Woods and others.

Phelicia Jones emphasizes to the Supervisors that more than 10 times as many Black people as White people per capita are targets of use of force and arrests by SFPD, the COPS report makes 272 recommendations for improvement, yet no improvement is occurring.

Furthermore, several supervisors and public commenters noted immediately following the presentation that there were troubling results: for example, fewer than 10 percent of the total DOJ COPS recommendations were marked complete – three years after the issuing of the recommendations. Public commenters remarked on the slow progress and on the integrity of the process. (Watch video here; start at around 1:15 for the hearing and about 2:55 for public comment).

Some common themes raised by public commenters were:

  • The Board of Supervisors, Police Commission and California DOJ have not been monitoring the process closely enough, the Oct. 22 hearing having been the first in more than two years;
  • Hillard Heintze is working for the SFPD and therefore is not impartial. In the hearing, he said it “defers to Chief Scott” even in presenting data, which is an outrage. Per DOJ COPS recommendations 1.1, 26.1 and many others, marginalized communities are to be actively invited into the community input process. However, meetings are not being held with the most impacted and most marginalized community members in the Bayview. And Heintze has even actively shut down community input from working groups, according to multiple public commenters;
  • SFPD has been allowed to report on whichever items it chooses, in whichever methodology it chooses – rather than addressing the highest priorities first and reporting meaningfully on the data it collects;
  • There was no community voice in the hearing. Nearly every public commenter asked why Phelicia Jones of Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods (WDBC-J4MW) was not asked to be a part of the hearing agenda.

To that end, Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods have demanded the following of the San Francisco BOS in future:

  • At least once-quarterly hearings of the full Board of Supervisors, i.e., the committee of the whole, on DOJ COPS;
  • That the California DOJ is invited to speak at the hearings;
  • That SFPD and Hillard Heintze be required to report data on a per capita per race basis;
  • And that Phelicia Jones, founder of Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods, be a presenter within the upcoming hearing schedule.

We who work with Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods (WDBC-J4MW) have been fighting for police accountability and justice for victims of police violence in San Francisco since the execution by SFPD of Mario Woods in 2015. We have researched and tracked the DOJ COPS process, the 272 recommendations, and the subsequent data reporting from the beginning.

Our early work is the reason there even is a DOJ COPS report and process – based on our demand since 2015 for an outside investigation of SFPD. This process must be followed in a timely manner, be conducted using appropriate, meaningful reporting techniques, and be monitored under the close and ongoing supervision of the City of San Francisco.

Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community – Justice 4 Mario Woods and its founder, Phelicia Jones, can be reached at mwjusticenow@gmail.com.