Written by The Business Journal Staff
(AP) — The new police chief in San Francisco inherits a daunting job in a city divided by race, where black residents’ trust in law enforcement has been frayed by a series of violent confrontations and the perception that officers are hostile toward minorities.
Deputy Chief Tony Chaplin, a 26-year veteran of the police force, faces immense pressure to turn the troubled department around — and fast.
Chaplin, who is black, has already received the support of the NAACP and the police officer’s union. He was serving as head of a newly created group to oversee police reforms when Mayor Ed Lee appointed him Thursday, the same day the previous chief stepped down.
Chaplin “has the charisma, chemistry and courage to lead this department,” said Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP.
Lee said Chaplin’s appointment was an interim one and that a nationwide search for a permanent chief would be conducted. But the mayor said the department is still expected to plow ahead with announced changes.
“I will hold the acting chief and the department to a high standard of urgency to implement the reforms we’ve already announced in the past several months,” Lee said.
The mayor accepted Greg Suhr’s resignation hours after a young black woman driving a stolen car was fatally shot by a sergeant. The unidentified sergeant and another officer were struggling to pull the woman from the moving car, which had seconds before slammed into a parked utility truck.
It was the third fatal shooting of an unarmed minority suspect since five officers shot to death a young black man carrying a knife in December. That shooting was captured on video and circulated widely online. It appeared to contradict Suhr’s initial assertion that the suspect menaced officers with the knife before they opened fire.
The video and Suhr’s initial statement prompted protests and calls for his resignation. Those calls intensified in April, when police shot and killed a homeless Latino man who was also carrying a knife.
Several days later, transcripts that showed three officers exchanging racist and homophobic text messages were released. It was the second such texting scandal to rock the department since late 2014, when the public learned that eight officers had also exchanged inappropriate messages ridiculing minority suspects and using slurs.
Though those texts were exchanged before Suhr was appointed chief in 2011, he was criticized for failing to discipline the officers quickly enough. A judge overturned Suhr’s attempts to fire the men, ruling that he failed to act within a year of discovering the messages. The officers remain on duty, but the city is appealing the judge’s decision.
Until Thursday, the mayor remained firmly behind the politically connected Suhr, repeatedly saying he was confident that the chief was making needed reforms. Union head Martin Halloran said Suhr was popular with the rank and file, calling him a “cop’s cop.”
Halloran said he and the union were disappointed that the mayor had forced Suhr to quit, but that the Police Officers Association supports the new chief.
Chaplin “is an experienced veteran of the SFPD and is more than capable of leading this fine department during this transition,” Halloran said.