Bay Area Chapter Supports Meaningful Accountability for SFPD

Rose Paxton
Law for the People Intern

Supervisor John Avalos speaks at the podium; NLGSF board member Keyvan Eliasieh stands behind him in the suit and tie.

In June, the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF) worked with San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos to push for more far-reaching police reform. The move came after several killings by San Francisco police officers, ongoing scandals, and the forced resignation of police chief Greg Suhr. The measure would withhold SFPD funding until certain measures are met.

A letter sent to the Board of Supervisors urged support. “The adoption of this proposal is urgent: Since 2000, the SFPD has killed over 40 civilians, no officer has been charged with any crime, and only 4 shootings were found to be in violation of department policy.”

While the police commission is working on new use of force policies, the Avalos measure would require compliance in a way that has real teeth. It requires the use of de-escalation techniques and the “minimal” force necessary as opposed to “reasonable” force. It would also require that a Crisis Intervention Team respond to individuals in behavioral crisis. SFPD would then be required to provide reporting on these methods.

In addition to policies on use of force, the proposal also seeks to strengthen accountability mechanisms. Avalos calls for an Early Intervention System requiring supervisors to monitor officers with a history of egregious use of force. By intervening with additional training or reassignment, problem officers would be tracked and dealt with before they could do harm. Crisis and Early Intervention systems like these have a record of reducing the average number of complaints against officers in a police department by more than 50% and have the potential to save lives in San Francisco.

Addressing persistent, unchecked racial profiling in San Francisco, the proposal also calls for more rigorous disciplinary policies. If officers have received sustained complaints for racial profiling or fail to record required demographic data, their misconduct would be documented and penalized. In tandem with the proposal’s use-of-force policies and intervention systems, this type of reform answers the NLG’s call for “meaningful change to prevent further unlawful killings, racism, and brutality by the San Francisco Police.”

In their letter to the Board of Supervisors, the NLG stressed the rising momentum of the proposal’s reforms, noting, “Cities including Albuquerque, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle and Oakland, have all adopted measures similar to this proposal with regard to de-escalation techniques and minimal force standards for law enforcement.”

In the wake of Chief of Police Greg Suhr’s May 19th resignation, San Francisco and its government have a duty to follow the examples of the aforementioned cities. As the NLG highlighted in their letter of support, police reform is an urgent matter. “Despite a series of scandals such as the racist text messages, and a succession of fatal officer-involved shooting of people of color, there has been no real improvement in accountability by the SFPD.”

In activist Adriana Camarena’s words, “Alex Nieto did not have to die. Luis Gongora Pat did not have to die. Jessica Williams did not have to die. In all of these instances officers shot indiscriminately…there has been no oversight of police to change this behavior.”

Avalos’ resolution offers attainable solutions to these chronic problems of racialized violence, discrimination and brutality in the San Francisco Police Department. The National Lawyer’s Guild stands behind this measure and demands that government act in a way that reflects the demands of local communities most impacted by police violence.