Bay Area/ San Francisco
Published on March 26, 2015
Recapping Last Night's SFPD Commission Meeting

Photos: Hoodline/Walter Thompson

Last night, the San Francisco Police Commission held its monthly meeting at Grattan Elementary School in Cole Valley. The agenda included a report from SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, a review of the Office of Civilian Complaint's recent activities and a presentation by Park Station Capt. Raj Vaswani.

In his Chief’s Report, Suhr touched on the ongoing investigation into a texting scandal involving several officers who sent each other homophobic and racist messages. Suhr said the texts were “brought to his attention” by Occife of Civilian Complaint (OCC) Director Joyce Hicks. Of the 14 SFPD members who were initially implicated after review of the text messages, five have been reassigned to roles with no public contact.

The text messages became public during a bail hearing for former Sgt. Ian Furminger, who quit the force after being convicted of public corruption in 2014.

Suhr said the results of an investigation should be completed next week and that he “expects to recommend termination” for employees who exchanged the messages in question, as “any officer of such character” would be unfit to serve.

Other topics in Suhr's report included the March 17th shooting of Alice Brown near Pine and Van Ness and efforts to get the city’s crime lab re-certified by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. According to Suhr, the re-certification push revealed that a criminalist on staff was committing errors while processing evidence. As a result, officials are conducting an audit to see if any prosecution cases were impacted.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed spoke briefly about the texting scandal and new proposals for redrawing SFPD district lines before handing the floor to Hicks, who gave an overview of OCC’s complaint and investigation process. “I’m just here to say hello and hear what everyone has to say,” said Breed.

After New York and Chicago, San Francisco has the third-largest civilian review agency in the US, but Hicks said “budget constraints” have reduced OCC staff from 35 to 31. Complaints against SFPD have remained flat for the last two years: OCC received 728 in 2014, compared to 727 the year before. Most allegations were for neglect of duty, said Hicks, who was accompanied by senior investigator Steve Bell.

Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said OCC complaints are assigned to individual commissioners before the entire commission decides the outcome in an administrative hearing. “We take our role in disciplining SFPD officers very seriously,” said Loftus. “We need to do a better job of sharing what we do with the community.”

In other business, Loftus said the Commission is taking a fresh look at how to use its firearms review board after shootings, and Commissioner Thomas Mazzucco encouraged Suhr to issue a General Order regarding social media policy for the department. “In light of recent events, I’d like to get that back on track so there’s clarity for our officers and clarity for the public,” said Mazzucco.

Capt. Vaswani gave attendees a report on police activities in SFPD's Park District for 2014, noting that violent crime has dropped but property crime has increased, largely in the form of vehicle thefts and auto burglaries. Overall, Park District saw a 4 percent increase in crime from 2013 to 2014, but Vaswani said officers made more firearm arrests and wrote 44 percent more traffic citations.

Community-based policing is key to his strategy, said Vaswani. “I want it very informal. If they’re getting coffee, I want them to walk around the park.” Park District has four sectors, one foot beat, three retail districts and 19 different neighborhoods that encompass 67,000 people. “We have the fun part of Golden Gate Park,” he said. “The boring part, we gave to The Richmond.”

Handling large events is a major responsibility for Park District. About 50,000 people are expected for Bay to Breakers this year, and the 4/20 Day celebration is predicted to attract thousands to Hippie Hill. “We’ve been in meetings on that,” said Vaswani, “and it’s going to be smooth sailing.”

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, two members of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association urged the Commission to move the new district boundary from Fulton to Turk, as the proposal under consideration “cuts us in half.” Members of the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association expressed safety concerns regarding open-air drug sales in the park and asked commissioners to maintain an increased police presence.

Paulette Brown, mother of slain teenager Aubrey Abrakasa Jr., made an impassioned plea for justice in her son's unsolved 2006 NoPa murder. Brown displayed a list of people of interest in her son's murder who haven't been charged: the city is offering a $250,000 reward for information that leads to the conviction of the perpetrators.

The San Francisco Police Commission meets every Wednesday. No meeting is scheduled for April 1st, but sessions on April 8th, 15th and 23rd will be held at City Hall. A Commission vote on adopting the proposed new SFPD district boundaries will be held at the April 15th meeting.