The SFPD: Still fighting the art of de-escalation
Even the family’s old familiar potboilers no longer seem quite right to me. I recall, once, how we would all function together like an ancient Greek chorus, urging my brother to reel off his treasured Charley and His Dog, Bud. The yarn, minus its embellishments, would always go something like this: Bud loved to ride in the pickup as close to Charley as he could get. One day on a typical outing when Charley returned to his truck, he noticed that Bud had uncharacteristically moved over to ride shotgun. When Charley opened that cab door – oh my!
Bud would not make eye contact. Inscrutable, Bud stared straight ahead, stoically, like an immobile stone statue from a canine Easter Island, categorically ignoring the big steaming poop pile he had squarely deposited in the middle of that cab seat!
Now, I never counted on losing my sense of humor, but this family tall tale has simply become allegorical. After doing their business on February 16, 2010, in front of the Forever 21 store in Hallidie Plaza, the San Francisco Police Department has refused to make eye contact with me.
The SFPD has continued to stare straight ahead, enforcing a policy some say its officers live by – Code FIDO or F**k it, Drive On (Google SFPD Fido). It is the policy that killed my son, the only code that at least 24 uniformed and off-duty officers put into effect on Shrove Tuesday, 2010 at the suicide baiting death of Dylan Yount, who was publicly and disgracefully savaged by the police and the crowd for needing medical help.
Since then, the SFPD not only denies any culpability in his death, they remain ostensibly silent about the equal culpability of many inside that crowd of 1,000. While other police departments stridently condemn the practice of suicide baiting (48 incidents examined at Suicide Baiting Prevention) not a single word about the crowd’s predatory behavior ever crossed the official lips of SFPD spokeswoman, Lyn Tomioka!
Indeed, the now-deputy chief also failed to mention the existence of any illegal activity. Her intentional omission is a stark contrast to what Captain Ron Eddlemon had to say about a 1984 suicide baiting in Campbell, California, when his officers arrested a heckler yelling jump: “If they hadn’t, other people in the crowd might have taken up the chant,” or what the arresting officer Police Sergeant Paul Kern added, “That kind of behavior is poor citizenship and extremely irresponsible. It’s also against the law.”
Spokeswoman Tomioka, though, deflected all serious inquiry about the suicide baiting with this cunning red herring – the alleged “hostage negotiator” – apparently the moniker the SFPD uses interchangeably to cover everything from terrorists forcibly detaining barricaded subjects to an intervention with a potential suicide jumper. Nevertheless, Tomioka focused her remarks on that hostage negotiator (sometimes plural) who was way too late to help my son, a sharp contrast to the official SFPD report that claimed the hostage negotiators “were in route.”
I look forward to having these discrepancies resolved in our jury trial scheduled now to begin July 28, 2014. (Kathy Yount, Individually, And In Her Capacity As v. City and County of San Francisco Et. Al.) Meantime, I struggle to learn all I can.
Like most, I am horrified by police brutality, sickened by the January, 2014 acquittal of two Fullerton, California, police officers who clubbed, stunned with a Taser gun, and beat to death homeless schizophrenic Kelly Thomas. The defense counsel’s frequent referrals during trial to those two bullies with badges as “peace officers” shocks – just like the outrageous verdict. Exactly how many instances of unreasonable and excessive force against the most vulnerable are Americans prepared to tolerate?
Only the dedicated efforts of multiple San Francisco civil rights, mental health, homeless, and youth coalitions have thus far kept the SFPD from adding more weapons to its own arsenal. In opposition to this latest advocacy round for Taser weapon acquisition, both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild, among others, weighed in, the ACLU maintaining the mentally disabled would be the most targeted; the NLG citing the dangers of an “over-militarized police force.”
Even so, the SFPD categorically rejects implementing the best proven “weapon,” Crisis Intervention Training. CIT is an effective community collaboration designed to train officers to de-escalate crises and resolve them peacefully. Although this training was legally mandated for SFPD adoption in 2011, the department resists, illogically claiming it cannot fund CIT – unlike the tasers it presumably could. When Chief Suhr finally dropped the latest Taser gun proposal in April 2013, he complained doggedly that the public constraints on using tasers would be “so onerous,” that having the weapons would not be worth it anyway if they couldn’t use them!
Quite simply, de-escalation training is simply an ethos the SFPD cannot internalize. All the way from the top down to the bottom rank-and-file, the department is doggedly attuned to the use of force. It is pure dramatic irony that the SFPD officer most directly responsible for CIT training, Commander Mikail Ali, also advocates for taser use because, he argues, “Words do not always work.”
Quite so. Especially the wrong words, Commander Ali. Especially inappropriate words from unskilled and untrained officers that exacerbated a suicide baiting. Especially words used to denigrate and humiliate a psychologically disturbed man already deeply ashamed of his public distress. Your Taser guns could not have stopped a suicide baiting, but appropriate training could have.
While I often wish to scream, “Quit recruiting from the back of the class!” or “Houseclean your stations regularly of those unsuitable for police work!” neither statement would entirely change a police department fixated on force as the only solution to every problem. The SFPD is so arrogant it believes it is accountable to no one nor could learn anything from others. Will we have the public afraid to call them?
It seems millions of years ago that I once thought of police as role models – long before I ever asked, “What did you do in Hallidie Plaza, and what were you supposed to do?” I never went looking for an adversary.
And I never thought much about citizen journalism either. Most likely there were dozens of security cameras positioned all around the plaza on that fatal Mardi Gras Tuesday at Bank of America and Forever 21 and directly across Market Street at Nordstrom’s and Westfield Mall. Whether the SFPD ever bothered to secure any of these surveillance tapes for review, we do not know. If they did, they never shared any of them with us.
What would have happened if we had been unable to provide our own?
Code FIDO would have happened, that’s what.