The official San Francisco Police Department line on the December 2 shooting death of Mario Woods, as pitched at an explosive community meeting by Chief Greg Suhr, is that the 26-year-old alleged stabbing suspect caused his own death by raising his hand at a gun-toting wall of cops. Video evidence, however, renders that interpretation hard to swallow. And now, calls for Suhr to step down are growing.
But, perhaps in hopes of mollifying its legions of critics, the department on Friday quietly recategorized its firearm policies. According to a Departmental Bulletin issued late in the day, pointing a gun at a person is now considered “a reportable use of force.” Any officer who finds him or herself “intentionally pointing” a firearm at someone must report the action to a supervisor, explain his or her rationale in writing, and, at the time of the incident, explain to the person with a gun pointed his or her way why this is happening—“if circumstances permit.”
Not surprisingly, the December 11 bulletin was followed by a missive issued on December 12 by San Francisco Police Officers Association boss Marty Halloran. In a letter to Suhr, the union chief complained that tighter regulations “may constitute a change in working conditions for our members.” As such, the union “has not and will not forfeit its right to meet and confer regarding this matter related to change of working conditions.” Halloran called on the new policy to be suspended “until such time as the meet and confer process has concluded.”
For those hoping to reform the SFPD in the wake of the Woods shooting, the union’s ongoing response has provided a wakeup call: Not only are the department’s longstanding issues a cultural matter and a policy matter and a training matter and an attitudinal matter—they are also a union matter.
The POA is doing what unions do: support its members, come what may. Police union brass skipped Mayor Ed Lee’s press conference following the killing, and Halloran took a swipe at Lee for daring to second-guess the officers’ decision making. He sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors and mayor blasting Supervisor Malia Cohen’s criticisms of the officers, and pooh-poohed the notion of police taking on knife-wielding suspects with mere shields and batons. Equipping every last San Francisco police officer with a $100 Premier Crown 3100 body shield, incidentally, would cost about as much as hiring a single new officer. But, in truth, there is no cheap, quick, and easy plan to solve the deep, institutional problems that were revealed in Woods’s gruesome death.
The POA, in fact, may be counting on that.