Commentary: San Francisco Law Enforcement Suddenly Finds Itself Under Fire


When Ferguson took to the news last August following the shooting death of Michael Brown, few people had heard of the suburban St. Louis community, but the problems of a largely white police and city council and largely black community were hardly surprising.

When the focus turned to New York, there was a long history of black community-police strife, even pre-dating the Guiliani era.

However, the problems in San Francisco, on the other hand, are nothing sort of stunning. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted two weeks ago, “S.F.’s tarnished diversity brand harms our future.”

Jeremy Adam Smith writes, “San Francisco is a city with a strong brand identity, one defined by diversity, innovation and fairness. Many came to the city fleeing places like Ferguson, Mo., where the police shooting of Michael Brown was followed by revelations of pervasive racism within the department and city government.

“But San Francisco’s brand is in decline — and today the city is facing a profound identity crisis. Far from being an exceptional place where people of many different backgrounds can feel at home, it is coming to resemble the rest of the country.”

It is the rest of the country part that should scare the living bejeebers out of everyone. San Francisco is not a community that is likely to turn its back on these problems like other places in the country. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, like his predecessor Kamala Harris, now California’s Attorney General, has been a driving force behind progressive reform of California’s criminal justice system.

Now he finds himself “reassigning staff and looking for more funding to investigate three separate scandals involving city law enforcement agencies.”

He told reporters on Monday, “I find it repulsive. In my entire 30-year-plus career in law enforcement, these are some of the worst allegations that I have seen. And I find them extremely troubling, not only because of the incidents, but because of the potential repercussions for involving so many prosecutions.”

Three scandals have broken out in San Francisco since mid-March and that doesn’t even include the much publicized case where a public defender was arrested for questioning the legality of an arrest taking place in front of her.

The first scandal, as we have reported, was a series of text messages containing racial jokes and other bigoted messages that were swapped between several San Francisco police officers. These text conversations came to light during Sgt. Ian Furminger’s federal fraud trial and it implicated at least four current SFPD officers, and potentially more.

Last week, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced that their investigation, conducted by the independent private investigation firm Simon Associates after an inmate’s father alerted his son’s public defender to the abuse on March 12, showed that sheriff’s deputies forced inmates to fight in gladiator-style matches while he and his colleagues bet on the outcomes.

“These revelations are sickening,” Jeff Adachi said. “Deputy Neu forced these young men to participate in gladiator-style fights for his own sadistic entertainment.”

“It’s unlikely that this case was limited to only four people,” Mr. Gascón said. “We want to know who else knew, when did they know, have there been other similar cases, are there any other issues going on over there that we should know?”

But that is not enough. Over the weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that supervisors at the city’s crime lab were under investigation for submitting potentially shoddy DNA matches in criminal cases. This scandal “may imperil hundreds of criminal cases based on DNA evidence,” the paper reported.

“I don’t know how long this task force is going to last,” Mr. Gascón said. “It may be months, it may be years. We’re talking about very complex issues, and frankly we’re only beginning to see the surface. We do not know at this point how deeply the problems run within either organization.”

According to Jeff Adachi, the crime analyst, at least in one case, would submit findings helpful to the prosecution but not submit findings helpful to the defense.

Mr. Adachi is calling the state or federal DOJ rather than the local DA to investigate these complaints.

“I don’t like it,” Mr. Adachi said. “I don’t think law enforcement should be investigating law enforcement. I have less of a problem investigating the problems in the sheriff’s department, but with the DNA crime lab, and the police, these witnesses are relied upon by the district attorney in seeking their convictions.”

“I invite members of the public and members of law enforcement to provide information to this office concerning any of these cases or any other allegations of misconduct involving law enforcement personnel in our county,” Mr. Gascón said. “San Francisco will have no tolerance for bad behavior or criminal behavior within our law enforcement community, and part of that begins with all of us standing tall and ensuring that these cases and any other cases that may be found are handled appropriately. The public deserves this and I will make sure that we do so.”

Our concern is this: if these things are happening in San Francisco, what is going on in the rest of the country where the media is more likely to look the other way and they have public defender’s offices headed by appointed officials with few resources?

Jeff Adachi is one of the only elected public defenders in the country, and that gives him a level of autonomy that public defenders who serve at the will of the county supervisors do not have.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts


  1. Davis Progressive

    i think just as ferguson uncovered a lot of things that were going on in many places, what we saw in sf is much of the same.  i think people who are not in the system have no idea how bad things actually are.  crime labs are not unbiased – they are police and law enforcement organizations and they will often both destroy and hold back exculpatory evidence.  sometimes by the time it is discovered it’s too late to save the defendant.

  2. Frankly

    This is a completely anti-cop, anti-law enforcement, race-obsessed, unbalanced, emotive rather than objective, article.

    Our concern is this: if these things are happening in San Francisco, what is going on in the rest of the country where the media is more likely to look the other way and they have public defender’s offices headed by appointed officials with few resources?

    How about the media reporting on the stories but not inventing a larger issue of it to further ideological pursuits?

    I think we have a level of ignorance and/or dishonesty that permeates this narrative that law enforcement is so race biased and that the sky is falling because of it.

    The ignorance and/or dishonesty is related to the job of law enforcement.   Who do we hire to do that job?  Who wants to do that job?  What is the wiring of the time of person that can do that job?

    I have the misfortune of losing a much-loved cop relative who was known for being kind and sensitive.  He would get letters of  thanks from suspects he apprehended and citizens he stopped and interrogated.  But he could not handle the stress and eventually took his own life as a result of it.

    Before he left us, I had enough conversations with him about his work to understand that he was jaded about humanity.  He wanted to retire early and buy property were he did not have to see or talk to people he did not already know.  The stories he told about his “clients” (a term he used I think to help steer him away from more derogatory labels) were depressing, ugly, infuriating… basically identifying a subclass of poorly behaving people that most of us never have to be bothered by because the cops doing this work.

    The cops carry the burden dealing with this messy part of society so the rest of us do not have to.  And it heats me up when those of us made safe and secure by them stand up on our high and righteous horse to pass judgment on them.

    Utopia is an irrational fantasy because of human nature.  There are always going to be a percentage of the population that behave badly… or that make strings of bad choices and end up a complete mess.  And once they fall that far down they end up in the bottom of a needs hierarchy pursuit that causes them to not care about the harm they cause others.   The cops have to deal with all these below the line people that don’t care about the harm they cause others.  And doing so will absolutely impact a person’s physiological outlook on humanity.  And it takes people with certain wiring to do the job.  And they are going to be people made of tougher stuff and thicker skin.  Applying the hypersensitive politically-correct speech code rules of American liberalism is a mismatch made in hell.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i can relate to your comment about your family member.  i think – and this is the same in my profession – that the bad cops make it much harder for the good cops to do their job.  just as the bad lawyers make it harder for the good lawyers to gain the trust of their clients and others in the system.  while you say cops carry the burden of dealing with this messy part of society, so do many people – lawyers, teachers, social workers, etc.

      1. Frankly

        Cops more than any are dealing directly and routinely with the worst.

        Following the apparent murder suicide in Davis, I learned that Veterinarians have a higher rate of suicide than the general population.  It is explained as stress related to dealing with the direct experience of death of animals.

        The murder-suicide impacted me.  The day after I had a bird fly into my office sliding glass door and suffer and die and I punched a hole in the wallboard of my office in response.  My response upset some of my employees and I had to explain myself and apologize to them.  Am I a bad person for losing my cool and blowing off steam?   If I have to blow off steam only reading about the tragedy, what happens to the cop having to deal directly with the victims?

        My point here is that human encounters and situations impact our emotions and our psychology.  And all of us deal with it in ways that help us cope.  And two point about that.

        1. If the way we cope does not materially harm another, then it should be left alone.

        2. If the harm is only upsetting to the most sensitive, there is a second view that the the sensitive should demonstrate empathy for those dealing with the stress.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i disagree with you that cops are dealing more directly and routinely with the worst.  i dealt with those same people.  i’ll also point out that most people police deal with are not criminals, but i think often they forget that.

      2. tribeUSA

        In response to DP, surely you must concede that they understand that it is in their interest to cooperate with you and solicit your aid as much as they are able, since you are their lifeline. So usually I would guess they try to present their better side to you. In many crime-plagued neighborhoods, cops are viewed by many (particularly young men and those who have strayed across the other side of the law) as the enemy or potential enemy; and become a focus target for the anger and frustration these people might have about their lives, so that the cops are treated disrespectfully. And often police see first hand the damage that many criminals cause, the harm they frequently bring to others–more of a first-hand experience for a policeman.

  3. TrueBlueDevil

    Slanted piece with an agenda.

    We could applaud the 99.5% of the police who weren’t found to send offensive texts. Or we could be told that several of the police officers in this drama are black, Latino, and gay.

    Maybe union rules protect bad apples?

    Maybe recruiting from pools where we have lowered standards for affirmative action needs through methods like “banding” doesn’t work.


    1. Davis Progressive

      i think commentaries are suppose to have a slant.

      “We could applaud the 99.5% of the police who weren’t found to send offensive texts”

      we should applaud people for not doing something horribly offensive?  i would think that should be taken for granted.

      “Or we could be told that several of the police officers in this drama are black, Latino, and gay.”

      that doesn’t exactly matter.

      “Maybe recruiting from pools where we have lowered standards for affirmative action needs through methods like “banding” doesn’t work.”

      or maybe police officers are hard to recruit because they’re pay isn’t great, the job is dangerous and highly stressful and therefore many of the ones who end up being hired have traits that are less than desirable.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        What other occupation lets you retire at 50 or 55 with 90-95% of your yearly salary as a pension?

        I saw ads for police officers in Oakland that start at $69,000 per year, plus bennies.


        1. Davis Progressive

          a lot of government positions allow people to retire fairly early with healthy pensions.  however, a police officer in oakland is going to be retiring at that age in part because of the stress of the job.  and $69,000 is not a great salary these days.

    2. PhilColeman

      The so-called police unions have far less ability to protect their members than in other sectors of the labor market. An exception would be police departments on the East Coast.


      1. David Greenwald

        I have to disagree on that point. California has the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, you have the Copley Supreme Court decision, all of which are among the stringent in protecting the personnel files of police officers in the country. On the other hand, I do agree that the unions have been less successful than say the firefighters in securing huge salaries and benefits. But I’ll never forget going to the Capital in 2008 or 2009, the legislature was considering a bill to legislatively override Copley and then the uniformed police officers showed up at the committee meeting and the bill never got out of committee.

        1. PhilColeman

          True enough–the legislative and judicial branches of our government are the ruling authority, not police unions.

          And every interest group imaginable lobbies our legislative process. Police unions have the same rights and access as, say, the ACLU, who opposes anything favorable to law enforcement.

          I present the above as fact. My editorial comment follows your historical fact. Were you to approach the California Legislature today as you did in 2008, you’d see at least some change in receptivity. Thanks primarily to the past heavy-handed tactics and internal scandals of the Correctional Officers’ Union, police unions generally have declined in power and influence.

          1. David Greenwald

            I don’t disagree on that point. The overall climate on crime issues has changed pretty dramatically in the last five years or so.

  4. Tia Will


    How about the media reporting on the stories but not inventing a larger issue of it to further ideological pursuits?

    I think we have a level of ignorance and/or dishonesty that permeates this narrative “

    I think that “the media” does do the job of reporting of stories. There certainly is no absence on social media of actual clips of police caught on film using excessive force on already restrained individuals as reported by local news agencies. This is not isolated to SF or NY or any other locale that has made it into the national spot light. One only has to Google to find many, many clips, not just stories that people are telling that may or may not be true. It is very hard to not come to the conclusion that a suspect who is already face down on the ground and is encircled by police and then is punched in the side of the head 16 times, tasered twice and put in a choke hold perhaps had excessive force used on him. To pretend that these instances do not occur because one does not look at them is to me a bit disingenuous.  What I think is that the level of ignorance and dishonesty about this subject cuts both ways and may depend a great deal on the ideology that one brings to the discussion.

  5. Tia Will


    Did you deal with them at 3AM in the Tenderloin?”

    Well , I never worked in the Tenderloin. But I have worked in the ER at County Hospital in Fresno ( at the time referred to affectionately as the Knife and Gun capitol of the world) and in a remote hospital with a healthy contingent of gun and knife wielding drug and alcohol abusers. I am with DP on this one. Police are not the only workers who put their lives on the line in the service of people whose social behaviors are less than exemplary. Nurses, social service workers, doctors, phlebotomists, orderlies and nurses assistants frequently find themselves in harms way ether physically or psychologically or both. It is not just police. But it is only the police that we seem to glorify when they put themselves at risk. I did not notice, and in fact should not have noticed, since it is just a part of the risks that we assume with our job, an outpouring of Vanguard commenter outrage over the shooting deaths of either of the providers of abortion, or any of the doctors and nurses endangered by Ebola or AIDS. These individuals also put themselves at risk to provide the services that they have committed themselves to. Why should this be any different for the police ?  Why do we not mourn all those who lose their lives, or are injured when providing needed services ?

    1. tribeUSA

      Tia–with respect to the main thrust of your comment (which I agree with), I do think the police see the worst side of the criminals and punks they have to deal with. Physicians and emergency aid workers and social workers and defense attorneys are all there to render aid, will usually see such people as on their side, and will naturally try to show their better side. However, police are there to call them to account for misdeeds–and after all; who wants to be reminded about their bad deeds and held accountable for them?–so police are not viewed as helpers; and I do think they are often the targets of a lot of negative emotions of the people, particularly in the criminal world, that they have to deal with.

      And by the way I agree with your earlier comments on excessive force; it does seem to be on the rise and something to keep watch on and deal with in a way to minimize such abuses.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for