For years, the San Francisco Police Department has failed to control officers who repeatedly resort to force, hitting, choking, clubbing and pepper-spraying citizens at rates far higher than fellow officers, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Both city residents and visitors have learned painfully that force often is the first option for these officers. The Chronicle began an investigation of how often San Francisco police use force after a violent confrontation in 2002 between off-duty officers and two men carrying a bag of steak fajitas. The case that led to indictments, later dismissed, of the department’s top brass.
The newspaper did what the Police Department itself has never done: examining handwritten use-of-force logs from 1996 to 2004 and creating a computerized database that makes it possible to determine which officers reported using force and how often. That data showed the city has a core group of violence-prone officers — fewer than 100 in a force of 2,200. San Francisco is not unusual in having a small group of violent officers. The data — along with a review of civil lawsuits and the department’s own rules, and 155 interviews with citizens and others who tell of police violence — show the city is different in two ways: the police department lags far behind many other major cities in developing an effective system for identifying problem officers. And it has failed, over and over, to take steps to get these officers off the streets. Police Chief Heather Fong says the department is working to develop a better system for tracking and identifying potential problems and hopes to have it in place by year’s end. Officials point out that force is a necessary tool for officers, as they frequently confront criminals who resist arrest.