San Francisco Police Reform

Amidst nationwide outrage driven by police brutality against Black Americans, San Francisco leaders are working to drastically reform policing and address systemic racial inequities.

Amidst nationwide outrage driven by police brutality against Black Americans, San Francisco leaders are working to drastically reform policing and address systemic racial inequities.

In June, Mayor London Breed announced her vision to fundamentally change policing in San Francisco, setting forth four priorities: demilitarizing police forces, ending the use of police in response to non-criminal activity, addressing police bias and increasing accountability, and promoting economic justice. 

On October 27, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, criminalizing racially motivated 911 calls. Acronymized to CAREN, the name is a nod to the widespread “Karen” meme, which has recently adapted to refer to white women who call authorities against people of color for trivial or even fictitious infringements. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CAREN Act bans 911 calls motivated by discrimination against one’s “race, religion, sex, or any other protected class.” The legislation will allow the victim of a false or frivolous call to file a lawsuit against the caller under several qualifiers, which include emotional distress and physical harm.

Another aspect of San Francisco’s police reform includes shifting the responsibility of responding to nonviolent and non-criminal situations from police officers to teams of unarmed professionals with specialized training. Many situations that police respond to involve psychiatric and behavioral crises. However, police are not adequately trained to handle these situations, which often leads to the interactions escalating into brutal violence.

The Washington Post, which has catalogued fatal police shootings every year since 2015, found that about a quarter of the people shot and killed by police were experiencing a mental crisis at the time. Furthermore, a recent analysis published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology showed that unarmed Black men who exhibit signs of mental illness are more likely to be shot and killed by police compared to unarmed white men displaying similar behaviors.

For too long, Black people have been subjected to violence at the hands of people in power.”

— Mayor London Breed (D-SF)

These racial disparities highlight the urgent need for change in the criminal justice system, which San Francisco seeks to address through these reforms. The new teams will be implemented with the goal of providing people with support and treatment for mental illnesses and substance abuse issues, rather than punishing them and responding with violence. San Francisco aims to have the first team running full-time by the end of November, and to grow the program to six full-time teams by March 2021.

The San Francisco police reforms are among the most ambitious in recent history; by establishing these new changes, the city leaders are aiming to create a model for law enforcement agencies across the nation. As Mayor Breed notes, “For too long, Black people have been subjected to violence at the hands of people in power. Now is the time when we can make sure that these demonstrations that we see are translated into real action.”