San Francisco police face DOJ review

The review will be done by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which promotes officers' ties to public

By Paul Elias
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO  — The U.S. Department of Justice launched a review of the San Francisco Police Department, an agency facing scrutiny over the shooting death of a young black man and the emergence of homophobic and racist text messages exchanged between officers.

The review will be done by the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which promotes improvements to officers' ties with communities.

Law enforcement experts say the review is a less onerous process for the police than if the DOJ's civil rights division had launched an investigation.

The civil rights division can force departments it investigates into court-monitored legal settlements after finding constitutional violations like it did recently in Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri.

The review from the so-called COPS office is usually designed to help the targeted department improve its operations, said University of Missouri-St. Louis criminal justice professor David Klinger.

"It's much more a partnership to improve policies and practices as opposed to a court takeover," Klinger said.

The review comes amid persistent calls for the resignation of the city's police chief, who has asked the Justice Department to examine police operations. Last week, Mayor Ed Lee also called on the DOJ to look into the department following similar calls from the American Civil Liberties Union and lawyers representing the family of Mario Woods, 26, who was shot dead by officers on Dec. 2.

Police said Woods stabbed a stranger and then refused to drop a knife when approached by officers. Authorities said only one of the five officers involved in the shooting was white, but protests over Woods' death have persisted.

The department already was grappling with rising racial tensions when Woods was shot.

Earlier in the year, a judge ruled that Police Chief Greg Suhr waited too long to discipline officers who he discovered had exchanged racist and homophobic text messages. Suhr is appealing the judge's order, which bars him from firing eight of the 14 officers implicated in the scandal.

Suhr said he delayed disciplining the officers because he didn't want to interfere with a federal corruption investigation into several officers. So far, the mayor has stood behind the chief, who says he has no plans to resign.

An attorney for Woods' family welcomed the review.

"It is the right and decent thing to do and a step in the right direction toward healing in the African American and Latino communities," attorney John Burris said in a statement.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

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