• 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.


    • SFPD is in deep doo-doo.

    • I agree with Liz. They’re in deep doo-doo and that’s why they’re refusing to make eye contact. (And yes about recruiting from the back of the class. It does seem there is less training on the de-esculation fronts…or there are only one or two who are actually skilled at it and the rest rely on their bullying, intimidation tactics to make people “fall in line” and then are stymied when it doesn’t work.) Then again, we pay our officers like we pay our public school teachers–we kinda get what we pay for. There are so many levels of culpability and injustice here–and most of the reason we need to address them is because we’re losing our humanity, citizenship, and morality by ignoring it or letting stuff pass. We need better mental health care and funding for support; we need better justice/legal enforcement that actually punishes people who do crime without letting them off on technicality while putting away innocent people because they couldn’t afford the expensive lawyer; we need EMPATHY, all the way around, for each other, and that’s most of the battle I think. We have so little empathy for our own friends and family and ourselves, we’re incapable of having empathy for complete strangers unless we actually just STOP and make ourselves do it…and I know how “hard” that can be, how busy, how overwhelmed I am at my piddly-atty job to stop and listen to the people I’m serving and try to get them the help they are asking for, that they need. It’s like battle fatigue in some way–and that doesn’t excuse what this police department did at all, but I think it is a contributing factor and it continues to be a contributing factor because we’re not doing anything to change things. Making them work more overtime with less resources, little protection, little prioritizing in where it matters…who wouldn’t get tired and be less empathetic? But once they saw what they had done, how their lack of empathy brought around that senseless death, they needed to own up to it, they needed to learn strategies so they never did something that horrible again.

      On my small level, I’ve seen the results of when my battle fatigue and lack of empathy made a situation worse and a student who paid for what was bad on every level, because no one would stop and listen and be empathetic. Fortunately no one was died because of what I do or didn’t do, but I have also seen where I did MORE than was expected (at least to today’s standards) and how that really changed that person and helped everyone. I think so much focus has been given to “Look you can’t help everyone” and it’s made everyone sloppy or demoralized, when the focus should be, “No, you can’t help everyone, but you can help THIS person at THIS time and it may really matter.” We’ve stopped teaching that, I think.

      I got all rambly…sorry…

      • Thanks, Hellion. I just love you. I imagine a lot of the good men and women on the SFPD are definitely frustrated. Here are a few statistics: the 2013 SFPD budget was 518 million dollars. 85% is for salaries. There approximately 2,000 SFPD all together. Half million dollar salaries are common. The police chief’s salary is the highest in the U.S., higher than Mayor Lee’s, than Governor Jerry Brown’s, Vice President Joe Biden’s. The SFPD is the highest paid department in the nation with probably the strongest police union in the country. The lowest salary for a starting police officer is $88k. with no experience. Yet the department in 2010 had only 30 to 35 officers trained in CIT! This is why I write.

    • Another worthwhile post Kathy. I hope in court you get to say all this in your plea for more understanding of hot to treat the mentally ill.

    • Madge, you cannot know how much I appreciate your support during this time. My gratitude!

      • Terri Connett

      • January 29, 2014 at 2:27 pm
      • Reply

      I just loved the way you began your column with Bud’s big steaming pile. This whole mess is just unbelievable to me. How can the police live with themselves after doing nothing!? Maybe they won’t look you in the eye now, Kathie. But in July it will be another story. There will be nowhere to hide. Your voice is so strong and reasonable. I’m in your corner big time!

      • Thanks, Terri. I have tried to be respectful. I did not write anything publicly for over a year! Now I cannot shut up! We need a partnership large enough for everyone to be included in the discussion. The police in many places are becoming the poster people for public distrust and disrespect. This will benefit no one. My gratitude for your constant kind words and support. I am feeling much stronger now that our jury trial date is scheduled!

    • Please support Suicide Baiting Prevention at https://www.facebook.com/SuicideBaitingCrowdPrevention?ref=ts

    • Our trial is scheduled to being August 25, 2014, in San Francisco’s Civic Center Courthouse with the Honorable Judge Cynthia Ming-mei Lee presiding.

    • We were dismissed on July 23, 2014, from Superior Court, just 32 days prior to what would have been the start date of our jury trial. We have filed in the First District Court of Appeals, San Francisco, a process that most likely will take 12 to 18 months.

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