By Vivian Ho
January 28, 2016 Updated: January 28, 2016 6:56pm
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr refuse to cooperate with the district attorney’s efforts to investigate police misconduct and departmental culture — even as they claim to be committed to transparency and accountability in the wake of the fatal shooting of Mario Woods, according to a scathing letter written to the mayor by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.
In the letter obtained by the Chronicle Thursday, Gascón suggested the mayor is not serious about his recent pledge to make changes to build trust between the Police Department and communities of color. If Lee was serious, the letter read, he would have cooperated with Gascón’s efforts to investigate the department.
Gascón is asking the mayor to reconsider his “lack of support” for the district attorney’s investigation into the racist and homophobic text messages allegedly exchanged between 14 officers. He said that Lee refused to provide funding to analyze the 4,000 police reports written by the officers in question — a review Gascón said is necessary to ensure that the bias and behavior exhibited in those messages did not spread into those officers’ policework.
The mayor “denied the very existence of the thousands of cases that had been called in to jeopardy,” Gascón wrote.
“If the promises you levied in your inauguration speech and in your letter to the Attorney General to repair the ‘dissolution of trust between communites of color and law enforcement’ are genuine, and if it will remain should the impassioned pleas from the community for reform fade in the months ahead, then I would ask that you demonstrate an actual commitment to these issues by taking steps now to support the exisitng investigation,” Gascón wrote. “These problems are far too serious and far too systemic to simply pay them lip service.”
After the mayor declined to fund the district attorney’s police misconduct task force, Gascón launched a blue ribbon panel to look into the culture and practices of the Police Department. However, he said in the letter that the panel was having difficulty getting Suhr and other officers within the department to cooperate with the review.
The department and the police union have “engaged in a dizzying array of stonewalling tactics,” with Suhr decreeing that all interviews with police officers must be done on personal time and demanding that the panel work through the police union, Gascón said.
“This is not the type of transparency and collaboration we could expect from a department and a chief eager to improve,” Gascón said.
Gascón asked the mayor to direct his police chief to cooperate with the panel.
“Public safety in San Francisco can no longer afford decision making that favors the interests of the Police Officers Association over the interests of the citizens you were elected to represent,” Gascón said.
Suhr did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the office received the letter Thursday and that regardless of Gascón’s insinuations, the mayor is dedicated to rebuilding trust and improving the department’s practices and policies.
She said while the mayor “appreciates the district attorney’s support for the mayor’s call for an objective review, he wants to make sure that all public safety agencies are involved in rebuilding trust in the community, including the district attorney’s office.”
Following the fatal Dec. 2 shooting of Woods, which drew public outcry when video of the encounter showed what critics said was an excessive use of force from police officers firing on a person who posed little to no threat, the mayor met with community groups, including the African American Advisory Forum, to get input on improving community relations with the Police Department, Falvey said.
Police officials said Woods, a suspect in an earlier stabbing, was armed with a knife and refused to drop it, despite officers attempting to disarm him with pepper spray and beanbag rounds.
In addition to his call for an independent Department of Justice review, Lee sent out a Jan. 6 memo to the Board of Supervisors directing the Police Commission and Suhr to bring all use-of-force and de-escalation reform proposals to him by Feb. 15. At the mayor’s directive, Suhr requested an independent review from the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services of the department’s policies.
“He has been talking to the community about use of force, crisis intervention and implicit bias,” Falvey said. “These are things coming from the community and these are topics that the mayor knows are important to the community and is working to establish that trust.”
Vivian Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @VivianHo