"Our department is shaken," Police Chief Greg Suhr said last week when federal indictments of six cops who had been menacing and taking advantage of poor people were unsealed (see "Crooked cops," page 13). But it was stirring for those of us who believe in social justice and government transparency to finally see action taken, three years after seeing damning video footage of cops stealing the few belongings that some people have.
Too often, widely witnessed cases of police misconduct simply slip into a black hole, shielded from public accountability by the overly broad Peace Officers Bill of Rights, which protects even the most egregious serial offenders from responsibility for their actions.
Suhr said other cops will face disciplinary action for connections to or awareness of the indicted crimes, and the ongoing investigation will go wherever it leads — but not into the command staff, as Suhr definitively said in response to a direct question from the Guardian. That's not good enough.
District Attorney George Gascón — who was police chief during many of the crimes — and his commanders need to be asked the classic cover-up question: What did you know and when did you know it? Because Gascón's answer to us that he learned of problems in the SROs only when Public Defender Jeff Adachi released the videos just doesn't ring true.
Police mistreatment of single-occupancy hotels and other poor people has been well-known. It's been going on for years, and it continues to this day — as our reporters found from simply asking around at the Henry Hotel. We're happy with Suhr's reforms of SRO procedures and his decision to place cameras on more cops, but that doesn't solve the police accountability problem.
City leaders have chosen to funnel tech firms into the poorest parts of town, with the unseemly encouragement of attorney and political climber Randy Shaw, whose Tenderloin Housing Clinic runs many SROs under city contracts. And it's been done with increased police pressure on the poor, including a new police substation built to appease and entice Twitter.
Those of us who criticized the decision to make the top cop into the top prosecutor were right that it would compromise police accountability efforts, which are almost non-existent in today's District Attorney's Office, even as the city aggressively works to "clean up" the Tenderloin and parts of town with high concentrations of poor people, such as 16th and Mission.
Adachi has been the hero behind these indictments, and he needs to be rewarded by the Mayor's Office with more funding for the police accountability unit he seeks. We can't wait three years for the feds to bring our crooked cops to justice in every case. If the DA's Office can't or won't hold officers accountable, then the city should help the Public Defenders Office play that role. The overworked Office of Citizen Complaints should also get more funding from the city's current budget surplus.
This city has broken trust with the people who need its help the most, and it's time to repair that damage.
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