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Approximately 200 people gathered at Thurgood Marshall High School on Wednesday night Feb. 24 to air their grievances toward the SFPD at the first of several town hall meetings, which are part of the formal review currently being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS).
The town meetings give the COPS panel from Washington D.C. an opportunity to hear the concerns of the community and learn about their perspectives and relationship between the SFPD, before initiating collaborative reform.
The process comprises three phases: intake and initiation; assessment and data collection; and monitoring and implementation. The first phase will consist of developing an informal set goals after meeting with the SFPD and conducting the town hall meetings. COPS will then come back to make those goals public in order to get feedback from the community before being finalized.
“It’s critically important to have this community input because if we can’t get the perspective of the community as we formulate goals and objectives on the front end, then we’re ultimately going to come up with a product that’s not as effective as it could be,” said Troy V. Williams, COPS supervisory grant monitoring specialist.
At the first town meeting on Feb. 24, the school’s auditorium was half-full, however people were still loud and made their presence known as they chanted “Fire Greg Suhr,” and “Justice for Mario Woods.”
The crowd formed lines on both aisles of the auditorium, as people stood waiting their turns to speak into the microphones. They shared their concerns and expressed their displeasure of city officials and the police department.
Many were displeased with the two-minute speaking time limit.
“You’re limiting our voices, let us speak,” many people yelled.
Most of the speakers exceeded the two-minute limit.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” yelled Felicia Jones of the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, as the COPS panel sat quietly listening to the other speakers.
“We are aware that this is not an investigation,” said Jones once it was her turn to speak on the microphone. “That this is nothing more than window dressing.”
Williams, who facilitated Wednesday’s meeting, took the crowd’s words to heart.
“As a black man and as an individual who grew up in an urban area who has had his own encounters with the police, I understand what’s going on,” said Williams. “I know that there are a tremendous amounts of travesties and injustices that occur in our community. I also know that there’s good police out there and so we’ve got to try and have the fortitude, leadership and the courage to work our way back to a better place.”
Getting back to a better place doesn’t necessarily require firing Chief Greg Suhr; according to some it means creating better policies and the making an effort to win the trust of the community once again.
“The message [from the crowd] boiled down to two things: a desperate need for accountability, and … great skepticism that a collaborative review could achieve the sort of reforms that are needed in the San Francisco police department,” said retired ACLU police practices specialist John Crew. “That’s why the community was calling for a civil rights division investigation, which could be enforced by a court of law.”
After COPS publicly announces its goals, the agency will spend 8-10 months working with a team of nationally recognized experts to gain a better understanding of the department’s processes and how they can be improved. In order to conduct the assessment, COPS will have open access to SFPD’s files, data and operations.
At the end of the agency’s assessment, it will produce a report with data and recommendations and present it to the community.
During the second phase, COPS will oversee and assist the implementations of the recommendations over a period of 18 months. They will publish two reports. One will be of SFPD’s progress after six months and the second one will be at the end of the agency’s commitment with the department.
COPS will be holding another town hall meeting on Tuesday, March 8 at Mission High School and another one on Thursday, March 10 at Gateway High School. Both meeting are scheduled for 6 p.m.