tv KQED Newsroom PBS April 17, 2015 8:00pm-8:31pm PDT
. next on kqed "newsroom" demands for change at the san francisco police department. >> healing has to start from the top. >> greg suhr has a challenge. he has to reform his organization. >> the public's trust in us has been damaged to be objective and fair and respond and do our job for all people. so we need to be about winning that back. >> the challenge is to restoring public trust. >> welcome to kqed "newsroom" i'm thuy vu. on tonight's show we will examine the stand also that have shaken the public trust in the san francisco police department.
you will hear from chief greg suhr and attorney george gascon. >> i was appalled shocked and astonished that in this day and age something like this could happen in the san francisco police department. >> sergeant yulanda williams is a 17-year veteran of the san francisco police department and president of officers for justice which represents african-american policemen and women. earlier this year she learned her name was mentioned in a series of racist text messages exchanged between fellow officers. >> i take it was not a personal attack on me but on all women of color. >> at first four officer were under investigation and now that number has grown to 14. >> i see this as a systemic issue and it's also the tip of
the iceberg. i felt in my heart when they said it's just four i said if there's four, there's more. >> the public is starting to see what our clients have been telling us for many decades. >> matt gonzalez is a attorney for the san francisco public defenders office. >> there are officers that have racist predispositions and we have a culture within the department that will try to hide this information from the public because they fear that it will result in a change in their organization. >> gonzalez is also concerned about problems at the police department's crime lab. two employees are under investigation for mishandling dna evidence. >> i think the lab scandal is very unusual. i think any time that you have evidence that appears to point to somebody's innocence that isn't being fully investigated or presented to a jury, it just -- you shake your head. >> the district attorney set up task forces to investigate the problems at the lab and the
texting scandal. scientists and outsiders will assist in the lab investigation. but the text task force is supervisors in the d.a.'s office. >> we would like to see outsiders, people that don't owe their job allegiance to the district attorney. >> the police department is recommending that eight officers involved in the texting scandal be fired. but sergeant williams wants to see police chief greg suhr reach out and start a conversation about racism and homophobia in the ranks. >> healing has to start from the top to the bottom and right now i feel like there is a gaping wound. >> what is the department doing to address these issues? scott shafer asked chief greg suhr. >> welcome and thanks for talking to us. >> sure. >> this is a tough time for the
police department. i want to start with the texting scandal. the office of internal affairs knew about the scandal in 2012. and you have been walled off from that investigation. why didn't you know about them sooner. >> the administration and the police department on the 6e list were walled off from the knowledge of what was going on in the criminal investigation because the suggestion could have been made that it could have gone farther than the officer involved. >> but that protective order wasn't signed until 2014 and it didn't specifically cover the texts. >> well again i'm not going to get into trying the motions that the defense is trying to make that i think it's interesting that we're talking about the technicalities of statute of limitations but none of the attorneys are saying that the officer didn't send the texts. we'll have to let the lawyers do their thing certain lawyers try
to try things in the media. so i am very confident that the wall that was put in place to preserve the integrity of the criminal case wherever it was going to go was there for a reason. >> would you have liked to have know sooner? >> i would like to make sure that the officer were involved in criminal civil rights violation were convicted which they were. >> you wouldn't have wanted to know sooner? >> not if it would have jeopardized the criminal case. >> you know the public defender and he says is it part of a culture of racial bias in the department. what do you say to that? >> i'm going to fire those office responsible for those texts but the process is i recommend termination and it goes to the police commission
and i believe the police dmigs commission is supportive of my recommendation. we will not have that conduct in the police department. he knows me and knows what i'll have and i will not have this. >> you have been on the force 33 years? >> 34. >> have you worked with any of these officers? >> i have. some if not most of the officers have worked for me. and i like to say that you know when we work we're all working together. i don't know any of the officers well. i do know one fairly well from playing intramurlsals. >> when you saw the names was it like oh, my god i can't
believe it or yeah, that makes sense? >> yeah it's so beyond the pale. i don't -- if i thought this was predictable or somebody was capable of this, something would have done before this. >> captain fox was involved in 2004 in an ugly incident of a gay bar. the city settled that case and there was no discipline against him in part because the commission or the department waited too long to act on the complaints. so isn't that a case where perhaps, the department covered up for somebody who many people thought might have been a bad cop? >> those questions are better posed to whoever was in my position in 2006. >> fair enough. it is not your responsibility.
but cops know each other and talk to each other and their families get together. there was no sense that he was a problem? >> not in so fares a as he has been in my administration. >> coming back to the question of bias. according to your department's statistics, some 47% of the arrests in san francisco are african-american versus 6% in the population. traffic stops are about three to one versus whites. based on those numbers let me just say -- what do those numbers tell you? >> i think you are leaving a number out of that report. right around 48% -- sorry, 44%, 45% of the people that reported as a victim and/or a witness
saying i want you to talk to "x" or sending us to go talk to an african-american. we could go back and forth on statistics all day long. the fact is there is a situation where law enforcement across the country and here in san francisco have -- are the public's trust in us has been damaged to be objective and fair and respond and do our job for all people. so we need to be about winning that back. >> if i'm a young african-american or latino or family member, based on all of this including the shooting of a gaut guatamalan immigrant. what would you have to say?
>> i'm telling you it's obviously hard on the person that's seriously injured or killed when we have to use deadly force and on their families and friends. it's hard on the officer and their families too. >> if the officers had been wearing body cameras there would be more objective evidence about this. and yet san francisco police officers do not have body cameras why? >> we are about to start a pilot in the next 30 days or so. we have a meeting in the next week or so to finish the policy. >> why does it take so long? >> the bigger issue having it on all officer isn't really the cameras as the cost it's the data storage. for us it's about $1.5 million a year. i believe that just like walkie-talkies and here in san francisco, smartphones, we got them for all the officers a couple years ago i believe that body cameras will be standard issue at some point in time. we got to get it figured out but
we will. >> police chief greg suhr thanks for talking to us. >> sure. >> district attorney george gascon says it may take two years to review all the cases affected by the scandals. i spoke with gascon about the task the d.a.'s office is now facing. district attorney george gascon thank you for joining us. >> my pleasure. >> i would like to ask about the bigoted text. it is up to 14 officer. what does that mean for you? how many cases do you think will have to be re-evaluated because of this? >> well in our early review it appears we're looking at least 1600 prosecutions and about 3,000 cases. there were about 3,000 cases that have been presented to our office where these officer were the primary actor in the arrest if you will.
out of those cases about 1400 were rejected but there was an arrest and we have an obligation to look at those and there were 1600 that we prosecuted. >> have you actually dropped any cases or dismissed any? >> we have cases that were pending and we have stopped the prosecution. but on the first level of review there are about 60 people that are in custody today some are waiting trial. some of them have been convicted, that involve some of those officer. if we have someone that was convicted and now we have based on a review, and we form the opinion that perhaps that case was tainted obviously, that has to be addressed. in addition to that regardless whether we think it's valid or not we have to provide that information to the defense and they get to do their own assessment. that is addressing the here and now of the people in custody
that we know of. >> we have established a task force to investigate misconduct within the police department. who is on that task force? >> right. so we have three task force right now. we have one that is dealing with the text messages. we have one that is dealing with the problems in the dna lab and we have one that is dealing with the problems in the sheriff's department. the one investigating the text are supervisors in this office and members of this office doing that investigation. >> why can't you give the actual names though? there is a concern among the public if they don't know the people within your agency it's law enforcement investigating law enforcement and there is an issue of trust and lack of confidence right now. >> this is not simply law enforcement investigating law enforcement. prosecutors are tasked with investigating official misconduct, corruption police misconduct. it happens all the time.
the fact that we're talking such an unusual step to assemble this task force because i recognize that the scope of the problem was so large it's actually very unusual and i think that people should understand that these are very unusual steps that are being taken because we want to be transparent. >> some of the problems started under your watch. >> some started before my watch. a lot of the people involved in this were hired before i got there. in 2010 when i found out about the drug problem in the lab, they had been apparently using drugs in the lab since 2004. the mistake i made in 2010 and this one that i'm trying to avoid now, we did not bring a group of scientists to look at it deeply. we brought others used to evaluating labs, some in law enforcement and obviously that was not enough. >> i'd like to ask about the
culture of the police department. do you think there is systemic bias within the department if you were chief suhr now how would you respond this. >> look, any time you have a case like the one that appears to involve at least 14 officers that the police department had made public where very racist and bigoted messaging is going back and forth and people feel comfortable speaking and creating information at that level you have to ask yourself could this be impacting other people? >> do you think how you handle this investigation will affect your chances at re-election? >> i don't believe so. i think this investigation while it has an impact on the criminal justice in san francisco and other places. this is not unique to san francisco. >> not unique but the scope is unusual. >> undoubtedly. but this is also an opportunity
for us to really be thoughtful about the way that we do our work. and i think ms. waters would give me credit for being so open. in many jurisdictions you would not hear about it unless some other way the information got out. we found out about the text messages by the chronicle. right. it's not like a got a call from somebody who says we have this problem. we found out about the problems at the dna lab through the chronicle and the problems with the sheriff's department through a press conference because one of his clients told him. those are problems that should have been brought to the surface earlier and we should not have found out through the media. there are systems that need to be worked on to make sure that future generations of district attorneys don't have to go
through what i'm doing today. >> district attorney george gascon thank you for joining us. >> joining us now are san francisco supervisor david campos and joyce hicks. thank you for joining us. joyce your office informed chief suhr about these texts. how did the occ find out about them? >> the occ found out about the texts when we received a cd from the san francisco police department internal affairs division to provide us with the information that they had been provided by the u.s. attorney's office. and as we were going through the information on the cd, we discovered the racist texts and when we discovered them we wrote the chief a letter outlining what was in that evidence. >> so internal affairs informed
you but did not inform the chief. does that concern you? >> internal affairs provide us with the cd which had masses of evidence on it. and to my nothing, internal affairs division had not discovered those texts when we discovered those texts. the internal affairs division. >> does it bother you they didn't notice these texts when they had all that data? >> it does not concern me that they didn't notice the texts because we were going through that data in a systemic way to convert the data to something called ocr, and it's optical character recognition and it just so happened that my technology staff began to see racist and horrific words flying across the screen because we were trying to make this very
unwieldy amount of information searchable. and so -- >> that's how that -- >> that is how we happened upon these messages. >> supervisor campos you were on the police department until 2008. one of the officer was accused in a different case. jason fox was accused of a shoving a man's head against a urine-soaked wall and using gay slurs. but eventually became captain. what are you thoughts on that? >> at the time we had to deal with the settlement. there was a lawsuit filed against the city by this gentleman who was really mistreated and was subjected to a lot of homophobic and insulting remarks. and our thinking at the time,
certainly my thinking was i know we have to settle this claim and i know that there are probably things that we're not able to do, but this is certainly an individual that i personally would not want to see in the force and we need to keep an eye on him. so i'm surprised that -- and disappointed that after that this is someone that actually rose through the ranks and let me be very clear we have a lot to be proud of in terms of our police department. there are many good officers and in many respects the department is better than in other parts of the country but we clearly have a problem. we need to do something different. because what is happening right now is that this police department has lost the trust of many communities. and i have a great deal of faith in greg suhr. i have a great deal of faith in joyce hicks the director of occ. but we need reform. we need to have a different approach to ensure that the
public once again can have faith in this police department. >> and so joyce, how do we go about restoring that faith? do you think that the department needs more independent oversight? i ask this because these texts, you found out about them in 2012? was that it? >> that is not correct. we did not find out about those texts until late 2014. >> okay. >> and that is when the u.s. attorney's office released that information to the administrative side of internal affairs division and authorized the administrative side of internal affairs division to release them to our office. because there was a criminal investigation taking place, those of us oversight practitioners including the
office of citizen complaints we were walled off from that information. we were not aware of that information. and as soon as we at the occ were able to compile the information and provide it to chief suhr, we did. >> is there better oversight needed so you're not so walled off? >> i think that that is -- it's a legal issue and so the -- it doesn't really have to do with oversight as much as it has to do with the criminal justice system and how when a criminal trial is taking place and a criminal investigation is taking place that trumps everything. and, we there are exceptions in the public safety officers bill of rights that provide for the
statute to be tolled while a criminal investigation is taking place. >> i think that we need to move beyond the technicalities of what happened here. obviously we have to figure out how it is that it took so long to get the information. but beyond that i think you have to look at the system. and one of the things that i think needs to happen is that there has to be a commitment to reform. and one of the things that is needed is we need to provide more resources to the occ. i do believe and i've said that since i've been on the board of supervisors that they need more resources. that as capable as the director is, when you look at the size of their budget $5 million to provide oversight to a department that has you know, hundreds of millions of dollars in budget i don't know that that's sufficient. i think that we need to do more to ensure that the resources needed are there. >> let me ask you supervisor campos about the
officer-involved shooting in the mission district. there are different accounts about what led up to it and whether lopez-perez understood what was happening. are you concerned about the ability to handle officer-involved shootings fairly. >> i can tell you there have been many questions raised by that community in this case. including the language capabilities of the officer, and i think that we need to put everything on the table and figure out how we can address some of these concerns. and it's by the way, not just oversight. i think that's important but also training. one of the things i think we need to do a better job of is making sure that we give our officers the tools they need to better interact with the community.
so i think it's a very complicated issue but it goes beyond one specific thing. >> joyce do you think chief suhr can reform the department? are you confident in him? >> i have confidence in see suhr but i agree with supervisor campos that some significant changes need to take place with training. one of the areas of training that is of particular interest to me is the area of implicit bias. and how do you train with the department where the department incorporates the community, particularly those community members and those community groups who feel aggrieved by recent develops or by their relationship historically with the police department. president obama's task force on 21st century policing has some very explicit recommendations on
how police officers can deal with implicit bias and bias issues and issues around individuals who have mental illness or -- >> sure. >> a significant challenge. >> i do have faith in greg suhr but i don't think it's just about the police chief. i think it's about the police commission and the occ and it's about the board of supervisors and the mayor's office. >> why hasn't the mayor been more vocal on this? >> you will have to ask him. but we need to have more action on the part of city hall. you know, there was -- >> what action can you take? >> there was a resolution that a supervisor put forward that in a mild manner said we have issues in san francisco and that resolution was not approved at the board of supervisors. the board of supervisors and mayor's office needs to recognize we have a problem.
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