Dear Mayor Lee,
The citizens of San Francisco cannot go another day without a fully commissioned leader of our Police Department. We have been without a Chief since May 19, 2016 when sustained community pressure resulted in Chief Greg Suhr’s resignation the day SFPD murdered Jessica Nelson Williams, SFPD’s eightteenth fatal officer involved shooting on his watch.
According to the San Francisco Charter, the Police Commission conducts the search and nominates candidates to the Mayor, who makes the decision and appointment. You have had the names of three experienced candidates vetted and selected by the Police Commission since November 2, 2016.
Although the Police Commission chose not to listen to activists’ demands that the names of the finalists be made public, we know that among the three names is a very highly qualified external candidate who currently serves as a Chief and is a nationally recognized expert in community policing, police reform, and race and police.
Another candidate you are considering is Interim Chief Toney Chaplin. Interim Chief Chaplin is a nice man and a vast improvement over Chief Suhr in terms of humility and understanding of communities of color.
However, there is no way Interim Chief Chaplin can be the change agent SFPD needs. His entire policing experience is within the deeply dysfunctional SFPD, he has been endorsed by the San Francisco Police Officers Association, and has stated that SFPD does not have a culture problem and is not systemically racist.
Mayor Lee, I was there October 12, 2016 when you stood next to the United States Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services officials and committed to implementing all of their 272 recommendations and to making SFPD a national example of transformational change.
With the election of Donald Trump, the federal government will cease pressure for SFPD accountability. If anything, Trump’s endorsements by the National Fraternal Order of Police, the Border Patrol officers union, the National Rifle Association, and the Ku Klux Klan have given their local accomplices, the San Francisco Police Officers Association, reason to rejoice.
Frederick Douglass famously observed “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” The next Chief must be a change agent or SFPD will not change. In the words of the Blue Ribbon Panel on SFPD Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement:
It is common sense that a law enforcement agency “can have the best policies in the world, but if [its] institutional culture doesn’t support them, they won’t work.” The incoming SFPD chief must have the vision and leadership skills to address the department’s institutional culture—he or she must have the dedication to implement 21st century policing best practices, hold regular and meaningful dialogue with diverse community stakeholders, and demand accountability from the top down. He or she must develop an organizational environment that encourages a compassionate and professional work ethic while earning and maintaining the respect of all officers and staff.
In the words of Suzy Loftus, your appointee and President of the Police Commission:
We need someone with a vision for managing a department through change.
Mayor Lee, stand up to the POA. Stand up for San Francisco. Choose a leader who has the experience vision and leadership skills to transform SFPD, NOW.
Racial Equity Trainer and Government Accountability Advocate
My mission is to build and support a community of people committed to love, learning, accountability, and action on race in America. I offer talks and workshops at companies, universities, nonprofits, and government agencies and blog on Huffington Post and Medium. I am a member of the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, co-founder of San Franciscans for Police Accountability and often testify to the San Francisco Police Commission and Board of Supervisors. www.karenfleshman.com @fleshmankaren