SF’s Search For A New Chief Needs Community Engagement

This has truly been a trying week for public safety in San Francisco. We witnessed another person of color shot and killed at the hands of the San Francisco police, followed shortly by the forced resignation of former Police Chief Greg Suhr. In the wake of so much violence and turmoil we must work together to figure out how we move forward. Whatever your position on recent police violence in San Francisco, what is clear is that we need to come together as a city to heal and begin the process of rebuilding trust in our police department.

Over the past 48 hours I have heard and read comments celebrating the dismissal of Chief Suhr. I ask those revelers to instead turn their focus to how we got here and the work that lies ahead. The fact is too many people of color are killed at the hands of police. The really difficult work — addressing the root causes of police shootings — lies ahead for our city.

Our elected leaders must use this moment to begin a transformation of the SFPD. We cannot simply begin a search for a new person to head the SFPD — rather we must embark on a nationwide search to find a Chief capable of bringing fundamental change to a department in need of reform. Our city deserves a chief that shares our expectation of excellence from those that carry a badge.

Our search for a new chief must happen in the sunlight. Conducting a traditional “behind closed doors” search will do nothing to engender trust with the community. The community deserves a seat at the table during this process. I propose that City Hall form a citizens’ advisory committee to work alongside the Police Commission during the search process. This committee should be made up of a broad spectrum of San Franciscans representing the diversity of our city — seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, families, rank and file officers and so on. The committee should work in consultation with the Police Commission in connecting with the community, developing a list of the qualities that our city seeks in a new Chief and vetting final candidates. Conducting a search without substantial community input will significantly hamper a new chief’s ability to connect with the community and members of the SFPD. If done right, this community-SFPD-government collaboration could be an important victory on the road to a safer city.

As our city’s search gets underway, we cannot let up on moving forward new reforms. I’m encouraged by Acting Chief Chaplin’s previous work and public commitments to reform and I hope our city leaders support his efforts. Whatever your opinion of public safety in San Francisco, Acting Chief Chaplin must be successful if we are going to achieve our shared goals of stopping police shootings, and I encourage our city leaders to support him in his new role.