Feds reviewing complaints of San Francisco police racism, bias

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A community policing unit of the U.S. Justice Department looking into San Francisco Police Department's use of force policies says it's also reviewing complaints of racism and bias, but in a limited way. That's not the answer local activists wanted to hear.

Justice Department official Ron Davis held a conference call Thursday to provide an update on the federal investigation into the SFPD. He said it will include reviewing aspects of the department's culture; this in light of the racist and homophobic text messages. But he emphasized this is not a criminal investigation.

Davis heads the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Office.

Mayor Ed Lee asked for a federal probe following the officer-involved shooting of Mario Woods last December.

RELATED: SFPD faces widening scandal over racist, homophobic text messages

In February, Davis announced that he would review the department's use of force training and practices.

On Thursday, he said in the conference call that his investigation would also look at the issue of racism and bias, but not criminally and not at specific cases.

"We're looking at why things like this occur," he said. "What steps the department should take to make sure that this doesn't become part of the culture of the organization."

The racist and homophobic text messages stemmed from two different scandals involving San Francisco police officers.

Fifteen were implicated in the first scandal, which became public last spring. The second revelation came two weeks ago.

RELATED: Former SFPD officer sentenced for conspiracy, fraud

This time, four officers may have exchanged offensive texts with Officer Jason Lai, who's being investigated in an unrelated case.

"We are well aware of the issue of text messages,"

But Davis cannot order the police department to implement his recommendations once his investigation is over.

He'll rely instead on the police commission, other oversight groups, and most importantly the court of public opinion.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi wants the state attorney general's office to investigate because it can order the department to implement reforms.

"Unless you have an agency that's capable of enforcing reform, you're not going to have real reform," said Adachi.

Alan Schlosser of the ACLU adds, "There's a real crisis of confidence in the community."

He wants the Justice Department's civil rights division to investigate because they do have teeth. They can go to court to enforce their recommendations.

Davis says there will be a series of assessment reports on the police department. He says the first one will be completed by the end of the summer.
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