Dear Mayor Ed Lee,
To restore the community’s trust you must listen to us about who becomes the new Chief of the San Francisco Police Department.
On May 19, 2016, sustained community pressure led to the ouster of Chief Greg Suhr after SFPD shot and killed Jessica Nelson Williams, the 18th fatal officer involved shooting during Suhr’s five-year tenure as Chief. In addition to the officer involved shootings, racist, sexist, and homophobic text messages; SFPD’s pattern of arrests and brutality against people of color; the defiance of the SF Police Officers Association and the impunity for all of the above have broken the community’s trust of SFPD.
Meanwhile, you have budgeted for hiring 400 police officers in the next two years, before implementing the changes three sets of experts recommend to rein in the SFPD: the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement, the Grand Jury, and the US Department of Justice COPS office. The killers of Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Demetrio Pat, and Jessica Nelson Williams remain on SFPD unindicted by District Attorney George Gascon nor disciplined by the Police Commission. The San Francisco Police Officers Association has endorsed the current Acting Chief, Toney Chaplin.
Who the next Chief is matters. The Chief sets the tone for the entire department. The Chief’s vision, values, and experience will shape SFPD for years to come.
He or she must have experience running a modern accountable police department and the courage to stand down the POA.
Most importantly, he or she must get SFPD officers to respect the sanctity of life, deescalate, and overcome bias.
This is literally a matter of life or death and precisely why the community must decide who becomes the new Chief.
As it stands now, the community will not know who any of the candidates are until you appoint the new Chief. Applications will close on August 31, 2016, the Police Commission will review the applications (23 received as of August 24), interview some candidates, select three finalists and forward their names to you to decide who becomes Chief.
I went to the fourth of the five SFPD Chief Search community input meetings organized by the Police Commission on August 24, 2016 at the Scottish Rite Temple.
These meetings are facilitated by young people who ask the few attendees the qualities they want to see in a Police Chief and write them on flip charts. There is also an online and paper survey. Ralph Andersen & Associates, the search firm paid $49,000 for this process, will synthesize data into criteria to look for in the new Chief for use by the Police Commission.
Mayor Lee, this Chief selection process is as opaque and antiquated as SFPD itself, and is not how other major cities have conducted searches.
More importantly, it does nothing to restore San Franciscans trust in SFPD.
Don’t mess this up. You must open up this process and truly engage the community or the Chief will be perceived as illegitimate from day one.
1) Make it clear that there is no frontrunner and outsider candidates are urged to apply. Extend the deadline for a month.
2) Invite the community to submit questions that are important to us to understand the experience, qualifications, and way of thinking of the candidates for Chief. Publish our questions and the candidates‘ answers on a website. Hold a forum for us to ask candidates our questions in person.
3) Invite community members to serve with the Police Commissioners interviewing the candidates.
4) Most importantly, listen and respond to our input as to which of the candidates is best qualified to heal the enormous breach between SFPD and the community.
For this Chief to succeed, both you and we must strongly back his or her vision.
We did not move heaven and earth to have Chief Suhr removed only to have a replacement we trust as little as him.
This appointment is much too important to be cloaked in secrecy. Please open it up for the benefit of all involved.