Over the next week, the San Francisco Police Department will become the first police force in the country to voluntarily allow state oversight, and for good reason. The SFPD has had its share of scandals, from racist and homophobic remarks made via text message to the unnecessary death of Mario Woods in 2015 after police officers shot the man more than 20 times for refusing to drop a knife. Despite this, they were told by the Department of Justice that reforms should not be a priority. The SFPD disagreed, and they will pursue reforms over the coming weeks.
I am someone who holds law enforcement in the highest respect. I believe it to be a noble, courageous, and necessary field of work which, like any professional career, requires adequate training and proper judgment – something that our country could use a lot more of. But when it comes down to it, police are just people – and the people working at the San Francisco Police Department are dedicated to reform.
The Obama administration implemented a policing program to advise and support law enforcement agencies as they work to improve upon flawed areas. This included refinement in use-of-force, accountability and racial bias. Through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), police departments could voluntarily work with Justice Department officials to establish ways of enhancing the trust of the public. In 2016, the Federal Department of Justice provided the SFPD with 272 recommendations, one third of which have already been successfully completed. However, in September, the Trump administration left us all shaking our heads when it announced the DOJ would no longer review or support these proposed reforms. San Francisco, as the activism powerhouse that it is, did not approve. The SFPD decided that it would continue to implement the recommendations made under the Obama administration, as they had already lead to an 18 percent decrease in the use-of-force and reduced complaints against officers by 8.5 percent. San Francisco Police Chief William “Bill” Scott stated, “Today is the beginning of the rest of the journey in terms of making this department a better department.”
The SFPD exemplifies to America what it should mean to work in law enforcement. It means to be smart, honest, brave, and most importantly, self-critical. It’s recognizing the enormous power placed in your hands and utilizing it with the utmost respect and caution. The SFPD is doing something honorable and reputable by recognizing its own imperfections and making effective changes to better serve and gain the trust of the community. Unfortunately, they are serving under a president who lacks the sense to support efforts to make communities feel safe, thereby dismissing the concerns of minorities who have faced police discrimination and brutality for years. We are all aware of President Donald Trump’s lack of compassion for the oppressed; the president made a speech in July 2017 essentially endorsing police brutality, as he encouraged an audience of Long Island police officers to not be “too nice” with suspects. It would have been easy for the SFPD to simply accept the president’s inherent bigotry and overly aggressive and violent suggestions for police conduct. But they did not. In standing their ground, the SFPD has taken a more ethical approach – and I applaud them.
Through their recent actions, the SFPD has reminded America that police officers are just people. They can be flawed, prejudiced, and dangerous, as can anybody – the difference being that police have the lethal power and authority that civilians do not. Because of this, it is crucial that individual police departments keep themselves in check, especially when operating under a president that encourages the abuse of power. The police officers in San Francisco are taking the first step in changing the way Americans view law enforcement. They are proving to us that while police officers have flaws, they are, more often than not, willing and eager to better themselves. I take my hat off to the San Francisco Police Department for standing up against a president who encourages them to push others down.