Just months after pledge of tolerance, SFPD caught in another racism scandal

Barely a year after eight SFPD officers were fired for their part in an exchange of racist text messages, five more have been implicated doing the same thing.

Jeff Chiu/AP/File
The San Francisco Police Department is once again roiled by officers sending each other racist text messages, District Attorney George Gascon said Thursday.

Five more San Francisco police officers were found to be exchanging racist and homophobic text messages, the city’s chief prosecutor said Thursday, in what amounts to the latest bout in the police department’s battle against racism and bigotry.

The revelation will force a review of hundreds of criminal cases that may have been compromised by the officers' bias, in a repeat of measures taken a year ago when 14 other officers were embroiled in a similar scandal.

This is not a problem endemic to San Francisco, however, as police forces nationwide have been under heightened scrutiny since mid-2014, following a spate of high-profile police shootings of unarmed black people.

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

Chief Suhr’s comments were made during the launch of a pledge against intolerance and racism, to be taken by all San Francisco officers.

The driving force behind this pledge came from Yulanda Williams, president of a union for minority officers, after she and others were the target of the first bout of racist messages uncovered in March 2015.

That saga resulted in the firing of eight officers. This time, the officers involved were all suspended when the information first came to Suhr’s attention in August. Two have since left the force and two others are facing termination proceedings.

The latest texts were unearthed from 5,000 pages of material in an unrelated investigation, District Attorney George Gascon told Reuters. And with 20,000 pages yet to wade through, there may be more officers implicated.

Indeed, the previous scandal also emerged from an unrelated case, a federal investigation of a police sergeant convicted of corruption. Subsequent review of cases involving the officers concerned has so far resulted in 13 dismissals.

In this case, too, there is a duty to bring to the attention of defense lawyers any cases involving the implicated officers, where bias could have played a part.

"They provide evidence of racial bias, which is impeachable evidence to the prosecution," District Attorney Gascon explained.

After the first bout of bigoted text messages came to light, Albie Esparza, chief spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, said the department gives more cultural training than any department in the country – 40 hours, with refresher training every two years.

Yet the fact that such a scandal is now being repeated perhaps underscores the depth of the challenge facing police departments nationwide.

"This is further evidence that American policing has not come as far as some thought since Rodney King and we need to ramp up assessment of the screening of [police] recruits to weed out such attitudes before such people are trained," said Mary Powers, founder of the National Coalition on Police Accountability, after the first incident in March 2015. "That this has happened in one of America's most diverse cities is unfortunate evidence that such bias and ignorance is more widespread than we know."

This report contains material from Reuters.

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