San Francisco police take anti-racism vow. Will it work?

San Francisco police will recite an anti-racism pledge. Can a pledge restore public trust?

Jeff Chiu/AP/File
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr is interviewed in San Francisco, where officers are being asked to take an oath co-authored by Sgt. Yolanda Williams to turn in any colleagues who display intolerant behavior, part of this liberal city’s attempts to repair damaged police-community relations.

The San Francisco police department is trying a new approach to target racism in its ranks: a pledge against racism and intolerance.

The same forces of discontent between the police and the community that have sparked violent protest in some cities have touched liberal San Francisco, but the pledge announced Monday with an accompanying website is an effort by a popular police chief to restore trust.

"People that would use racial epithets, slurs and things like that clearly fall below the minimum standard of being a police officer," Police Chief Greg Suhr told the Associated Press. "A cop needs to show character and point that out."

The verbal reinforcement and clear statement of objectives is one effort to change attitudes, but the department is also training for more "less-than-lethal" deescalation techniques. Suhr plans to introduce stun guns and mandatory reporting each time a weapon is pointed at a suspect.

The new website shows officers reciting the pledge, which is designed to be repeated by officers at graduation and each January afterward.

"I will not tolerate hate or bigotry in our community or from my fellow officers," states one section of the seven-point pledge. "I will confront intolerance and report any such conduct without question or pause."

Suhr said this was focused both internally and externally.

"I really think it's important that the public hear us say the words," Suhr told the Associated Press.

The website states the pledge was developed by Yulanda Williams, president of a union for minority officers, in 2015. Ms. Williams began work on the pledge after text messages among police officers were released describing her and others with charged racial language. Chief Suhr fired eight officers over the scandal, Heather Knight and Emily Green reported for the San Francisco Chronicle at the time.

"I don’t think there has been a chief, at least in my time, that ever sent eight officers with the singular recommendation for termination to the commission like I just did," Suhr told the Chronicle in June. "We do have some racism within the Police Department, and I’m about getting rid of it.”

The pledge idea gained more urgency after protests erupted over the police shooting of a knife-wielding black man, Mario Woods, on Dec. 2. The pledge was endorsed by the local NAACP and police union, and nearly all the responses to the announcement on the department's Facebook page expressed support for the department.

Is asking busy cops to snitch on each other annually really the best mechanism for rebuilding community trust, or just a fast track to demoralize the police force? Suhr said he intends it to reinforce for the public that the San Francisco Police Department can fairly mete out justice for the city.

San Francisco is not the only city trying to improve relations with communities after a rough year for police. In Cincinnati, police adopted a new rule requiring prosecutors to release evidence about police shootings within 48 hours, Patrik Jonsson reported for The Christian Science Monitor. Using that rule, the police released video from an officer's body camera promptly after a black man was shot by police at a traffic stop, and the officer was charged for murder.

Chicago has also begun releasing videos as a means of keeping a riled public better informed – with the aim of improving the community's trust. Internal discipline has also been employed. In Cleveland, officers who used deadly force during a 2012 high-speed chase were cleared of charges in court, but the department on Tuesday fired six officers and suspended another six, Henry Gass reported for The Christian Science Monitor.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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