S.F. Police Officers Union Unhappy With Mayor Lee’s Statement on Use of Force

Screen capture from Instagram video showing moments leading up to police shooting of a man in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood. (HotRod/Instagram)

Screen capture from Instagram video showing moments leading up to police shooting of a man in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. (HotRod/Instagram)

By Dan Brekke and Alex Emslie
KQED

Update, Wednesday, Dec. 9: The San Francisco Police Officers Association is chiding Mayor Ed Lee for comments he made earlier this week about the fatal shooting of Mario Woods in the city’s Bayview neighborhood last week.

The mayor’s comments came at a Monday conference to announce the Police Department will explore the use of Tasers, crowd-control shields and other techniques in the wake of Woods’ shooting, an incident captured on cellphone video.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Phil Matier and Andy Ross report that POA President Martin Halloran is also unhappy about a mayoral directive to Police Chief Greg Suhr “to take specific, immediate action to ensure (officers) have more options to resolve situations with the minimum use of force.”

From M&R:

“It should be ‘reasonable’ force,” Halloran said. “Minimal force means you have to work your way step by step up the ladder.”

He added, “When you respond to a call and find someone with a gun in their waistband, you should not have to start out with a verbal command, then go up to pepper spray or baton or some other tactic before you draw your gun.”

… When Lee asked Halloran to show up along with the police chief for the City Hall news conference, the union president declined.

“Basically, the mayor brought the actions of our officers into question,” Halloran said.

He said the officers who opened fire on Woods last Wednesday “followed every departmental protocol, and shot only after after having exhausted every other means of nonlethal use of force.”

In his statement, the mayor said that he had seen the cell phone video of the five officers firing at least 15 rounds at Woods and that “I found it very upsetting. … It raised a number of questions.”

Lee wasn’t alone in his concerns. Police Commissioner Joe Marshall, who was on hand with the mayor, later told reporters, “The fact that one officer fired, then all the other officers fired, is what has the community up in arms. To me, it felt like an execution.”

Halloran countered, “You can’t judge a situation on the basis of an eight-second video.” He noted that Woods, who had allegedly stabbed a man in the shoulder, had been pepper-sprayed and shot with nonlethal beanbags, and still wasn’t surrendering.

Halloran also issued a statement on Tuesday responding to critics of officers’ actions in the Woods incident.

Original post, Monday, Dec. 7: Amid community outrage over the videotaped police shooting of a Bayview man last week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said the city is “moving fast” to give the Police Department more options to de-escalate confrontations with suspects “with a minimum use of force.”

Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr announced at a Monday press conference at City Hall that the Police Commission would open its review at Wednesday’s meeting. At the top of the commission’s agenda will be considering whether officers should carry Tasers — a step long opposed by community activists who have argued the devices are dangerous and don’t do much to prevent officers’ use of firearms.

The mayor said other equipment and tactics should also be considered, including shields that could protect officers in encounters with suspects who have edged weapons, such as knives. The department currently has 60 shields and is beginning to deploy them to officers in the field, officials at Monday’s press conference said.

“Oh, we’ll open it up,” Police Commission member Joe Marshall said of the department’s use of force policy. “We’ll talk about use of force. We’ll begin the review of all our general orders, all our policies, our procedures, our trainings, all of that.”

Marshall said he was “flabbergasted” and “appalled” when he first saw video of last week’s police shooting, recorded by several bystanders, that killed Mario Woods, 26, a man police have described as a suspect in a stabbing on Wednesday afternoon.

Five officers fired at Woods as he moved toward an officer who stepped into his path.

“Did we have to handle it that way?” Marshall asked. “I’ve talked to several people, including officers, that say, ‘not necessarily.’ ”

Lee said the video is very upsetting and raises a number of questions.

He said that, on the one hand, city officials “need to reassure the people of San Francisco that lethal force is always the last option.” On the other, he added, police officers “deserve more alternates to lethal force in order to best de-escalate conflicts.”

The mayor said Suhr “is already … instituting significant changes to instruction for when and how often officers use their firearms and increasing mandatory recurring training on de-escalating skills. Our Police Department will have at least as much training in de-escalation as we do on use of force.”

San Francisco’s last four police chiefs, including Suhr, have urged the Police Commission to approve the use of Tasers. Suhr dropped his most recent Taser request, in 2013, after encountering skepticism about the devices’ safety and effectiveness from police-accountability

Monday, Suhr made reference to a weekend incident in London in which police officers used Tasers to stop a man who stabbed two people on a subway platform.

“Certainly as you saw on Saturday … the London Police Department were able to stop that threat with the use of a Taser,” Suhr said. “If that exact same incident happened here in San Francisco, we would have nothing but lethal force. So we would like to have Tasers. That will be part of the discussion that will be taken up when we open our use of force policy. … I will be asking for Tasers, yes.”

Suhr has said officers opened fire after Woods ignored repeated warnings to put down an 8-inch kitchen knife he was holding. Suhr added that attempts to subdue Woods with less-lethal beanbag rounds and pepper spray failed.

“Officers are allowed to fire in defense of themselves or others in danger of serious injury or death,” Suhr said after the shooting. He told a Bayview community meeting on Friday that the most viewed video of the incident, posted to Instagram, showed Woods extending his arm toward one of the eight or more officers who had confronted him — many with guns drawn.

Suhr’s argument drew jeering from the Bayview audience, along with shouted demands that he step down.

A KQED analysis of the video shows that the police gunfire actually began a fraction of a second before Woods extended his arm and that his movement may have been a response to being hit by a bullet. The Police Department has said five officers fired on Woods. Slowed-down audio of the encounter suggests at least 19 shots were fired in a 3.5-second span.

Suhr added at Monday’s appearance with the mayor that he asked for SFPD to participate in research on police use of force policies and training underway at the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based police practices research organization.

Lee and Suhr met with reporters at City Hall a few hours before a meeting of the San Francisco NAACP, which was called to discuss responses to the Woods shooting.

In an acknowledgment of the public anger over the Woods shooting, Lee said Monday: “This country has seen far to many incidences where conflicts between police and young men of color result in the death of a young person. In San Francisco, we’re not that kind of city. That’s just not our values. So let me say again very clearly … black lives do matter, and as mayor I commit that we’ll take all necessary steps to prevent these kinds of incidences when possible, to ensure public safety, protect the lives of our young people and maintain officer safety.”

Police Commissioner Marshall said, “We gotta do better than what you just saw. To my thinking, the last thing we should have done, even though it may be in policy, was what you saw happen to that young man.”

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