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SFPD officer smiling at man wearing cowboy hat

Bias-Free Policing

A guiding principle of the San Francisco Police Department is its commitment to treating all people with dignity, fairness, and respect. It is crucial for our members to carry out their duties in a manner free from bias and eliminate any perception of policing that appears biased. Biased policing is unsafe, unjust, and ineffective. It also alienates the public, fosters distrust of police, and undermines legitimate law enforcement efforts.

The SFPD is dedicated to ensuring our officers and professional staff provide unbiased, quality service to the diverse communities we work for. Our goal is to provide fair and positive interactions between San Francisco officers and the people we are proud to serve. The SFPD uses the following strategies to help us achieve our goals:

Policies

The SFPD's efforts to identify and root out explicit and implicit bias are codified in several of its policies:

  • Department General Order 5.17 (“Policy Prohibiting Biased Policing”). This DGO provides a definition of biased policing and explicitly explains the steps officers should take in order to provide impartial policing. All officers are responsible for knowing and complying with this policy.
  • Department General Order 2.04 ("Complaints Against Officers") outlines the policies and procedures for receiving, investigating, and processing complaints against officers. It also describes the Department of Police Accountability ("DPA") investigative procedures and findings.
  • Department General Order 2.05 ("Citizen Complaints Against Non-Sworn Members") outlines the policies regarding citizen complaints against non-sworn members.

Any Department employee who becomes aware of biased policing or misconduct is required to report it in accordance with established procedure and SFPD’s own Not On My Watch pledge, which was created to guard against implicit biases.

Training

SFPD’s training is based on the principles of procedural justice. Procedural justice centers on the belief that when officers engage in fair and respectful treatment, the public is more likely to view their authority as legitimate. The principles of procedural justice include:

  • Giving people a voice
  • Fair treatment
  • Respect
  • Providing a trustworthy process

SFPD’s training aims to reinforce the importance of incorporating these principles into our employees’ professional work environment. SFPD’s bias training includes:

  • The California State legislature has enacted Penal Code § 13519.4 mandating additional training for all California law enforcement officers to foster mutual respect and cooperation between law enforcement and members of all racial, identity, and cultural groups. To comply with this mandate, all SFPD officers attend bias training informed by contemporary, evidence-based best practices that include:
    • Identification of key indices and perspectives that make up racial, identity and cultural differences among residents;
    • Negative impact of intentional and implicit biases, prejudices, and stereotyping on effective law enforcement, including examination of how historical perceptions of discriminatory enforcement practices have harmed police-community relations and contributed to the injury, death, disparities in arrest, detention and incarceration rights, and wrongful convictions;
    • The history and role of the civil and human rights movement and struggles and their impact on law enforcement;
    • Specific obligations of peace officers in preventing, reporting and responding to discriminatory or biased practices by fellow peace officers;
    • Perspectives of diverse, local constituency groups and experts on particular racial, identity, and cultural and police-community relations; and
    • The prohibition against racial or identity profiling.
  • To create a culture within the SFPD that reflects 21st Century policing principles, all recruits, officers, and professional staff attend training addressing:
    • Equal Employment Opportunity/Harassment
    • Principled Policing and Procedural Justice
    • Racial and Cultural Diversity and Racial Profiling
    • Creating an Inclusive Environment
    • Managing Implicit Biases
    • Fair and Impartial Policing
    • Bias by Proxy
  • While in the academy, recruits are provided additional training focused on:
    • Policing in the community
    • The City’s homeless community and the Civil Sidewalk Ordinance
    • The transgender community
    • Cultural competency
    • Hate crimes
  • Recruits and veteran officers study interpersonal communications in order to create and maintain strong and respectful relationships between officers and community members.
  • SFPD collaborates with external partners for training on:
    • Inclusive leadership
    • Cultural diversity
    • Community outreach
    • Blue Courage, which focuses on developing a guardian mindset to serve the public

Audits

As part of SFPD’s commitment to detecting and eliminating bias, audits are performed on department-issued cellphones, email accounts, and computers for biased language. All "hits" of potentially biased language are investigated. The Audit of Electronic Communication Devices for Bias is presented on a quarterly basis to the Police Commission and is available for viewing on our Published Reports page.

Investigations of Biased Misconduct

The SFPD and DPA take all allegations of biased misconduct seriously, whether reported by members of the public or SFPD employees or discovered through an audit of department electronic equipment. Investigations of alleged biased misconduct are handled by members of the Internal Affairs Division (“IAD”) or the DPA and are prioritized over other types of disciplinary cases.

While complaints of bias may be difficult to sustain given that bias incidents are often reported as one-on-one occurrences, IAD and DPA investigators are trained to use current best practices to:

  •  Identify bias when reviewing investigatory stop, arrest and use of force data,
  •  Respond to a complaint of bias practices,
  • Use investigative tools that do not rely solely on a complainant’s statement,
  • Conduct a preliminary investigation to preserve key evidence and witnesses, and
  • Evaluate complaints of improper pedestrian stops for bias practices.

For investigations where an officer has been found to have knowingly engaged in biased policing or discrimination, the Department’s Disciplinary Penalty & Referral Guidelines for Sworn Members of the San Francisco Police Department calls for the officer’s termination from employment with the SPFD.

Recruitment and Hiring

The SFPD understands that our employees are our greatest assets and an essential part of the Department’s success. Part of that success centers on the ability of our employees to connect with the various communities we serve. Having employees with a range of diverse backgrounds helps to strengthen community relations and build partnerships between the Department and communities to reduce crime and increase trust. The SFPD is dedicated to creating a culture of diversity and uses the following strategies when recruiting and hiring new police officers:

  • Employing a comprehensive plan that demonstrates the Department’s vision and commitment to organization-wide diversity when recruiting, hiring, and retaining a diverse and high-performing workforce. This includes:

o identifying specific diversity recruiting priorities;

o identifying specific recruiting activities and targets for diversity recruiting;

o establishing specific responsibilities for implementing and supporting action items for diversity program staff;

o establishing performance measures to track progress across the SFPD for diversity in all ranks and units.

  • Utilizing a community ambassador program to identify and train community leaders to aid in SFPD’s recruitment process.
  • Ensuring diversity within the investigators who comprise the Background Investigation Unit.
  • Auditing and reviewing each phase of the hiring process to ensure there are no unintended consequences that limit the advancement of diversity goals.

Data Collection and Analysis

As part of the national conversation on police reform, including matters of accountability and transparency in law enforcement, accurate data collection has become a central focus in the discussion. At the forefront is whether specific identifying characteristics play a role in the outcome of encounters between law enforcement officers and members of the public, especially as they relate to the level of force used, the rate of arrest, or the propensity to search an individual. The SFPD recognizes the value of data collection and analysis and its importance on the Department’s ability to build relationships and develop trust with the communities in San Francisco. SFPD submits data for the following reports:

The Racial and Identity Profiling Act (“RIPA”) of 2015 (AB953) took effect on January 1, 2016 and requires California law enforcement agencies to collect and report data to the California Attorney General. As required by AB 953, the SFPD submits data regarding any complaints alleging racial or identity profiling and detailed demographic data for traffic and pedestrian stops. Using data provided by California law enforcement agencies, California’s RIPA Advisory Board publishes a yearly report on the past and current status of racial and identity profiling with policy recommendations for eliminating it.

Furthermore, in 2016 the City and County of San Francisco passed an ordinance and established Administrative Code Sec. 96A which specified reporting requirements for the SFPD. The Chapter 96A Report was developed to meet the quarterly requirements and includes data pertaining to stops, searches, arrests, use of force, and alleged bias-related complaints. Beginning in 2020, the SFPD began releasing quarterly crime victim demographic data, per San Francisco Administrative Code Section 96A.5, which was effective on April 13, 2020. This data is released in a separate report beginning 1st Quarter 2020.

The SFPD partners with academic institutions, non-profit research organizations, and government entities to review the Department’s data and evaluate the effectiveness of its current reforms. Past partnerships have included the U.S. DOJ – COPS office and the University of Chicago. Current partnerships include The Center for Policing Equity, a research and think-tank non-profit organization that uses data to create levers for social, cultural and policy change; Stanford University; and the University of California, Berkeley. These institutions provide the Department with reports that include recommendations the SFPD can use to implement innovative approaches to address implicit bias.

Safety with Respect for All

The San Francisco Police Department is committed to providing the resources, training, policies, protocols, and systems necessary to identify and eliminate biased behavior that negatively impacts our encounters with the public. By providing Safety with Respect for All, we strive to uphold the values of our department and City and build stronger bonds with the communities we serve.