San Francisco named a new police chief, an African-American police veteran who officials and community activists hope can reform a troubled department marred by fatal police shootings of minorities. The 27-year police veteran’s appointment comes at a critical time for the San Francisco Police Department, which faces a daunting list of reforms recommended by the Department of Justice. Like other law enforcement agencies around the country, the department has poor relations with minority communities.
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William Scott, a deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department, pledged at a San Francisco City Hall news conference on Tuesday to move the department forward by working with rank-and-file officers who may be leery of change.
“Change is always a challenge, particularly in this profession, and I think one of the biggest challenges will be just that – change,” Scott said, flanked by Mayor Ed Lee, police and elected city officials.
“Some things will change, some things have to change, but what I see is that there’s an organization here that recognizes that and is willing to be open to that.”
Throughout the past year, activists have descended on the mayor’s office and embarked on an extended hunger strike to protest police killings, including the shooting of Mario Woods, a black man, last December.
In addition, transcripts surfaced showing officers using racial and homophobic slurs in text messages. Former Police Chief Greg Suhr was forced to resign in May after a young black woman was shot dead as police tried to pull her from a stolen car.
Two months ago, a U.S. Department of Justice review found that San Francisco police use force more often against blacks than other racial groups and pull over African-American drivers at a disproportionately high rate.
Lee said his inclination was to tap a chief from within the department, but he had to ignore that urge given the seriousness of the federal report and the difficult work ahead.
He praised Scott’s experience in operations and administration and said the LAPD has undergone its own reforms in the past decade. Those reforms include overhauling its methods for tracking officer misconduct and investigating cases involving use of force by officers, according to the mayor’s office.
“We are changing as a city,” Lee said. “We are changing on the standards of what we expect the officers to do.”
Shawn Richard, executive director of Brothers Against Guns, said Scott does not know San Francisco like longtime residents know the city. Richard had been working on reforms with Interim Chief Toney Chaplin, who is also African American.
“I think now, all that is off the table and we have to show the new chief how to move forward with those policies and procedures,” Richard said. “It’s like putting training wheels on someone and giving them a tour of the city.”
London Breed, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, praised Scott as someone who has the skills and experience to usher in a new era in San Francisco policing.
“I’m looking forward to making sure that we do all we can to make sure that people who are not deserving of wearing this uniform are weeded out of the department,” Breed said.
Scott, 52, is a native of Alabama with a degree in accounting. He said he has always wanted to live in San Francisco and introduced his wife and two of his three grown children at the news conference. He was recruited to apply.
“The Bay Area’s gain is LA’s loss,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said about Scott. “Bill’s tactical skills, intelligence and kindness embody the spirit of our department.”
The Police Officers Association in San Francisco had been pushing for the interim chief to be named to the job permanently. On Tuesday, association President Martin Halloran said the union looks forward to meeting with Scott.
Scott will be sworn into office next year.