An Assessment of the San Francisco Police Department

On Wednesday, October 12, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) released An Assessment of the San Francisco Police Department, a report of the Collaborative Reform Initiative. This assessment was requested by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and former Chief of Police Greg Suhr to help address the significant community concerns regarding policing in San Francisco following several officer-involved shootings and other incidents.
Through the Collaborative Reform Initiative, the COPS Office specifically assessed the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) in five key areas:

  • Use of force policies and practices
  • Polices, practices, and training to address issues of bias in policing
  • Community policing strategies and protocols
  • Policies and practices regarding complaint disciplinary processes
  • Recruitment, hiring, and personnel practices 1

Following three community listening sessions; more than 400 individual interviews; over 50 observations of the SFPD’s engagement with community members; nine focus groups; extensive research; the review and analysis of hundreds of documents and data files; and engagement with SFPD personnel, government officials, stakeholders, and community members, the COPS Office released a report with 94 findings and 272 associated recommendations.
The assessment team found serious deficiencies in every area assessed from use of force policies to inadequate data collection and lack of accountability measures. 2 Some key findings highlighted in the report include the following:

  • The majority of deadly use of force incidents by the SFPD involved persons of color.
  • The SFPD does not adequately investigate officer use of force.
  • The SFPD does not maintain complete and consistent officer-involved shooting files.
  • The weight of the evidence indicates that African-American drivers were disproportionately stopped compared to their representation in the driving population.
  • African-American and Hispanic drivers were disproportionately searched and arrested compared to White drivers. In addition, African-American drivers were more likely to be warned and less likely to be ticketed than White drivers.
  • The SFPD’s failure to fully and adequately address incidents of biased misconduct contributed to a perception of institutional bias in the department.
  • The SFPD engages in a range of successful activities, programs, and community partnerships that support community policing tenets, particularly those coordinated through the Youth and Community Engagement Unit.
  • Evaluation of employee performance is not an institutionalized practice in the SFPD.
  • Gender, racial, and ethnic minority recruits were terminated at a higher rate from recruit training than White male recruits. 3

Altogether, five themes emerged from the assessment:

  • The importance of leadership in areas ranging from integrity to implementation
  • The vital role of communications across constituencies from officers to the public
  • The need for a clear vision of the SFPD’s future and a strategic plan
  • Protocols required to make oversight and accountability effective
  • Challenges in using data and technology 4

With the release of the report, the COPS Office and the SFPD enter the second phase of the Collaborative Reform Initiative, the implementation and monitoring phase. Through implementation and monitoring, the COPS Office will provide technical assistance to the SFPD and assess progress to implement the recommendations. Two additional reports will be released in the coming months—an initial and a final progress report. Both reports will be released publicly.

The full report is online, and the Executive Summary and Findings & Recommendations can be found in English, Spanish, and Cantonese.

Nazmia Comrie
Community Policing Dispatch
Staff Writer


1To see the full Goal and Objectives Statement, please visit “Goal and Objectives Statement for the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance with the San Francisco Police Department,” Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, accessed October 21, 2016,

2COPS Office, An Assessment of the San Francisco Police Department, Collaborative Reform Initiative (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2016), /ric/ric.php?page=detail&id=COPS-W0817.



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