Let's Get Serious about Community Policing.
It's Time to Engage SFPD's Community Police Advisory Boards (CPABs)
With the aim of promoting greater engagement between the police and the people they serve, in 2009 the San Francisco Police Department borrowed an idea from Los Angeles. Modeled after a successful Los Angeles Police Department program, the SFPD established Community Police Advisory Boards (CPABs) in the City’s 10 police districts.
A Missed Opportunity for Greater Community-Police Cooperation
Among other things, the SFPD’s CPABs were designed to heal its long-troubled relationship between police and communities of color. According to the SFPD’s CPAB manual, “Diversity considerations should play a significant role in selecting [CPAB] members.” In addition to racial diversity, CPABs should reflect a district’s age, gender, ethnic, religious and socio-economic diversity as well as “diversity of thought.” They should not be “restricted to those who openly support the department.”
In 2016, after five Black and brown San Franciscans were killed by SFPD officers during the preceding 12 months, the U.S. Department of Justice was called in to review the department’s activities. The resulting report’s findings were not pretty: Nine out of the 11 victims killed by the SFPD between 2013 and 2016 were people of color. Included in the report were 274 recommendations for correcting SFPD problem with Black and brown residents.
Among those proposals was making greater use of CPABs which were called “a good practice” failing to meet their potential. “[They] could play a more active role in policing decisions and communicating the policing activities and goals to the larger community,” the report stated.
A year ago, California’s Department of Justice issued a follow-up to 2016’s landmark study. A mere 15 percent of the federal proposals had been instituted. Of those being disregarded, was the recommendation that the SFPD carve out a larger role for its CPABs.
At their core, CPABs are an effort to get back to public safety as a shared responsibility between the community and the police,” Correia said. “To be effective the CPAB must be able to represent [and] to be aware of the needs of the larger community.”
CPAB information is hard to come by. SFPD stations rarely list CPAB members on their websites. (Obtaining the names of Richmond CPAB members required a public records request.) Minutes for the meetings are unavailable, an explicit violation of the SFPD’s CPAB guidelines.
Richmond's Mysterious CPAB
The Richmond Station’s CPAB meets monthly. Gaetano Caltagirone, the Richmond’s recently installed station captain, inherited a CPAB that is largely white, male and affluent—in short, everything the Richmond is not. Between 60 and 70 percent of the neighborhood’s 70,000 residents are renters. It is home to a large and diverse Asian population, and in recent years, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Black and brown residents.
At the start of his tenure, Captain Caltagirone, though highly regarded, promised to review CPAB membership. Community activists called on him to make the body more representative of the neighborhood, and candidates who better reflect the Richmond’s rich diversity submitted their names for consideration. So far, Caltagirone has not done so.
Only one new member has been added since Caltagirone came to the station a little more than four months ago: Former District One Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer. A Chinese-American, the wife of a retired SFPD officer and a life-long Richmond resident, Fewer is an inspired choice. It should be noted Caltagirone opposed Fewer’s appointment, only relenting after he received pressure from police department higher-ups.
The Richmond’s CPAB still fails to adhere to the SFPD’s diversity guidelines. Typical of the Richmond CPAB is Mark Dietrich, who is white, male and owns a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home near the neighborhood’s affluent Lake Street corridor. Dietrich, a marketing director at The Gap, hosts an anti-burglary website urging Richmond residents to “fight back” against crime. Some residents felt encouraged to form a do-it-yourself neighborhood watch, an effort many feared would end badly.
The SFPD’s community arm, San Francisco Safety Awareness for All (SF SAFE) cautioned the approach and Richmond District Supervisor Connie Chan councelled circumspection. “Pushing an idea that [Richmond residents] take matters into their own hands to ‘fight back’ against [crime]. . . is totally unacceptable, needs to stop immediately, and has the potential to lead to some very bad outcomes for the community,” wrote Kyra Worthy, SF SAFE’s executive director.
Added Chan: “The only way to ensure our neighbors are not misguided or misinformed, and most importantly not put themselves in the harm’s way due to false sense of security and misinformation, is to encourage our neighbors to work with our law enforcement agencies directly about their safety concerns. Please note,” Chan added, “I have alerted Chief Scott’s and his team regarding this situation so his team can find way to direct our neighbors and address their concerns.”
Richard Correia, the Richmond District’s station captain between 2008 to 2011, convened the neighborhood’s first CPAB in 2009. Today, he leads University of San Francisco’s prestigious Criminal Justice Leadership Institute. Correia said CPABs should include “anyone who wants to join in.”
“At their core, CPABs are an effort to get back to public safety as a shared responsibility between the community and the police,” Correia said. “To be effective the CPAB must be able to represent [and] to be aware of the needs of the larger community.”
San Francisco, like many cities, is being forced to reckon with its police department’s racist past. The CPABs are an important way for the SFPD to gain a greater understanding of City residents, particularly those who have often found themselves the target of racist police practices. To accomplish this laudable goal means that station captains must be transparent in their selection of CPAB members, must ensure that membership reflects that of their districts, and must not hesitate to remove members who are not serving the best interests of the community.
Julie Pitta is a neighborhood activist. You can email her here.
August 15, 2021