SFPD union ad's 'most diverse department' claim questioned 

click to enlarge San Francisco’s police union recently  released a short ad on television and YouTube touting the department’s diversity. - SFPD/YOUTUBE
  • SFPD/YouTube
  • San Francisco’s police union recently released a short ad on television and YouTube touting the department’s diversity.
Last month, San Francisco’s police union released a short ad on television and YouTube touting the department’s diversity.

The advertisement presents four officers of color at work — walking past cable cars, directing traffic — who then assure viewers they work for the “most diverse police department in the world.”

The Police Department’s ranks include people from many backgrounds. Yet statistics, a recent analysis of the nation’s largest police departments, and local groups paying attention to the matter do call the “most diverse” claim into question.

In fact, Los Angeles and San Diego, among large California cities, have more diverse police departments than San Francisco, according to the recent analysis of the nation’s top police departments.

San Francisco is actually the 14th-most diverse large-city police department in the country, according to the analysis by the website Fivethirtyeight.com.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association public-service announcement, titled, “This is what the SFPD and the SFPOA is all about” went live at a curious time: days after a series of racist and homophobic text messages, sent by a group of San Francisco police officers, was revealed as part of the federal corruption trial of former Sgt. Ian Furminger.

The outcry that followed was swift and severe. The City’s NAACP chapter and others called for stronger efforts to diversify a department that’s not immune to racial discrimination despite assurances to the contrary. Officers for Justice, one of the groups that called out the department, says the SFPD has yet to live up to claims that it’s the country’s most diverse department.

“I think at this point our department should say we are still in the process of diversifying our agency,” said Sgt. Yulanda Williams, president of Officers for Justice.

Not only have the numbers of minorities dropped in the force in recent years, said Williams, but conversely ethnic minorities make up a higher percentage of inmates in proportion to the number of residents who make up The City’s population.

“But what you are seeing is obviously a pattern that doesn’t just exist in the SFPD,” Williams said of the department’s ethnic composition.

Up until 1999, The City’s police were under a federal consent decree, which mandated the hiring of more women and minorities. Since the ending of that decree, Williams said, the department has been backsliding on the matter.

A closer look at the department’s ethnic makeup — 50 percent white — shows it’s still dominated by white male officers, even if there are sizable numbers of nonwhite officers.

For instance, the percentage of white officers in the force is higher than the white population of The City as a whole. Fifty percent of the force is white while 41.6 percent of The City’s population is white. Meanwhile, the department’s percentage of Asian officers is only half that of The City’s Asian population — 15.86 percent Asian in the Police Department, compared to 34.4 percent Asian residents in The City.

However, when it comes to black officers, the percentage in the force — 8.85 — is higher than their percentage as part of The City’s population: 6 percent.

The analysis by Fivethirtyeight.com, which is run by the former New York Times number cruncher Nate Silver, graded 75 of the country’s largest police forces by comparing the racial makeup of the department compared to that of the city they policed.

The analysis pointed out that in Los Angeles’ case, according to the analysis, the ethnic breakdown was due to a federally mandated increase in minorities in the department, much like that consent decree in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s federal consent decree — in place for much of the 80s and 90s — came from a 1973 lawsuit claiming discrimination. That decree mandated the hiring of women and minorities. The plan was to have 45 percent of the department women and/or minorities. Police Chief Greg Suhr has noted in recent public appearances that his department has of late increased it recruitment of minority officers. Suhr’s immediate predecessors included a Latino male, an Asian man and woman and a black man. “We want young people to see themselves in the San Francisco Police Department,” Suhr said at a recent hearing on racial bias in the department.

Those efforts are evident in the department’s academy classes since 2012, which has included 21 blacks, 58 Asians and 220 whites.

The Police Officers Association did not returns calls for comment.

SFPD's total police force: 2,124

White: 1109 or 50.82 percent

Asian: 346 or 15.86 percent

Hispanic: 340 or 15.58 percent

Black: 193 or 8.85 percent

Filipino: 131 or 6 percent

Other: 27 or 1.149 percent

Woman: 335 or 15.35 percent

Men: 1810 or 82.95 percent

Department academy graduates since 2012:

Black 21

Hispanic 46

Asian 58

Filipino 14

Other 6

White 220

City population: 2013 U.S. Census Bureau

White: 41.6 percent

Asian: 34.4 percent

Hispanic: 15.3 percent

Black: 6 percent

Other: 4.6 percent

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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