SAN FRANCISCO—At around 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20, the San Francisco Police Commission met via video conference and approved a “Bias-Free Policing Policy” for the San Francisco Police Department.
The policy, formally named Department General Order (DGO) 5.17, received unanimous approval from all sitting commissioners in a 5-0 vote. It will now move on to be reviewed by the San Francisco Police Officers Association for a final vote.
SFPD Commander of Metro Division Teresa Ewins, who is the executive sponsor of the proposal, presented DGO 5.17 to the commission.
The policy is a new iteration of a proposal from 2011. It has been in a years-long updating process by a working group composed of civilian San Franciscans, SFPD officers, representatives from the San Francisco Bar Association, and others.
Among the changes in the updated policy are several newly added sections, along with a new title. The DGO is now called “Bias-Free Policing Policy” rather than “Policy Prohibiting Biased Policing” in order to “to better describe what it is we want to accomplish as a department,” said Ewins.
The DGO now also includes a definition section that includes terms such as “racial identity profiling,” “biased policing,” “implicit bias,” and “bias by proxy.” The bias by proxy addition was described as the “brainchild” of SFPD Chief of Police Bill Scott.
According to Ewins, SFPD is one of the first police departments in the country to include a bias by proxy segment. The DGO states that bias by proxy “occurs when individuals call the police and make false or ill-informed claims of misconduct about persons they dislike or are biased against based on explicit racial and identity profiling or implicit bias.” The DGO notes that potential instances of bias by proxy should be critically examined by officers before action in order to avoid “perpetuating the caller’s bias.”
“[It is] a revolutionary section,” said Commissioner Cindy Elias, who, along with Vice President Commissioner Damali Taylor, worked to liaise between the civilians and SFPD officers involved in the working group.
In a section called “Preventing Perceptions of Biased Policing,” the new DGO now would also require that when citizens are stopped by the police, officers must provide their name, rank, and the reason for the stop.
DGO 5.17 now also has a section outlining a mandatory anti-bias training program for all SFPD officers. Examples of training sessions include “Racial and Cultural Diversity and Racial Profiling,” “Managing Implicit Biases,” and “Bias by Proxy.”
Following Ewins presentation, the commission heard comments from the public.
One caller highlighted a concern about the DGO’s emphasis on the word “perception”: “Perception is a public relations job not…what actually happens so I find that word perception very disturbing. It should be changed to, ‘There’s a growing public awareness of police bias,’ [because] it’s not a perception, it’s a reality.”
Another caller said, “Given the SFPD’s commitment to bias-free policing with this new DGO, it should do more to evaluate and explain data…or risk having hard work and noble intentions go to waste.”
In response to this feedback, Commissioner John Hamasaki said, “[Bias] is an ongoing challenge and we’re not going to knock it out in one day. This country was founded on it. We have a lot of work to do and this is a good first step.”