A San Francisco Police Commission meeting on Wednesday, a week after five police officers fatally shot 26-year-old Mario Woods in the Bayview District, set in motion the drafting of a revised use of force policy for how officers should be trained to handle conflict and what tools they need to do so.
Wednesday’s commission meeting included a discussion of the department’s current policies, including a briefing from San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr, and indicated that the revised policy is expected to emphasize de-escalation.
Many members of the public at the meeting criticized the fatal police shooting of Woods on Dec. 2, as well as other recent controversies involving the San Francisco Police Department, with numerous individuals demanding Suhr’s resignation or dismissal.
The meeting, which began around 5:30 p.m., was interrupted suddenly around 7:45 p.m. after one speaker refused to step down at the end of her allotted time in public comment. The meeting continued and commissioners and the chief discussed use of force in the department.
Some public speakers said at the meeting that the department should not place officers involved in shootings on paid administrative leave because it is interpreted by some members of the community as a vacation rewarded to officers who fatally shoot someone.
Commissioner Joe Marshall has consistently expressed his disappointment in the events that led up to Woods’ death and again Wednesday said the scenario shown in videos posted online of the shooting, which were widely shared on social media, were very disturbing to him.
At the commission meeting, Marshall criticized “the notion of support fire,” explaining that it should not be department policy to open fire just because other officers do. He said the commission has a responsibility to create policies that stop officers from using excessive force when conflicts arise.
“To them it looked like an execution,” Marshall said earlier this week after Mayor Ed Lee urged the Police Commission to prioritize de-escalation and minimize use of force.
Marshall said among the main concerns expressed by the community include why police were using lethal weapons on a person apparently armed with only a knife, and why all five officers opened fire on Woods, who was a suspect in a stabbing earlier on Dec. 2.
Marshall said that when he saw video footage of what had happened to Woods, it didn’t make sense to him either. He said Woods’ death points out all the gaps in the policies and procedures that are in place.
Following Woods’ death, Lee and Suhr, among others, suggested that officers be equipped with Taser stun guns.
The proposal has been previously brought up by Suhr and two prior police chiefs but was shelved each time over concerns by community and civil rights groups that Tasers are too dangerous, especially for people with heart problems, and are often used unnecessarily.
Suhr said at the commission meeting Wednesday that he too found the video footage of the shooting “upsetting.”
Commissioners said that when a draft policy has been provided to the commission, it will be posted on its website for the public to review.
A Police Commission discussion of the draft use of force policy is scheduled for Feb. 3.
Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News