Officers to receive harassment training in wake of racist text messages

All members of the San Francisco Police Department will participate in training to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace after racist and derogatory text messages discovered during an investigation into sexual assault allegations by an officer were recently made public, police Chief Greg Suhr said April 29.

Suhr made the announcement during a news conference addressing the second round of racist and derogatory text messages within the Police Department revealed since last year. He was joined by members of the San Francisco Police Commission and members of the San Francisco National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“These despicable text messages make clear that these former officers were not fit to serve our city and would not have met the current standards for hiring to have even become police officers in the first place,” Suhr said.

The messages were discovered by police investigators sometime in the fall of 2015, during an investigation into rape allegations made in August against former Officer Jason Lai.

The text messages, which included disparaging comments against black, Latino, Asian, Muslim, gay and transgender people, were allegedly exchanged between Lai, former Lt. Curtis Liu and two other former officers whose identities have not been revealed.

The messages, however, were not made public until recently, because the investigation into the rape allegations was ongoing, Suhr said.

“These ugly, bigoted text and images are difficult to look at,” Suhr said. “We are committed to cutting out this cancer of intolerance.”

In addition to the two-hour harassment and discrimination in the workplace training that all members of the Police Department will receive by the end of May, Suhr also outlined further reforms that are to take place within the department.

Some of those ongoing measures include changing bi-annual firearms qualifications for all sworn officers from two-hour range and firearm qualifications to eight-hour classroom training sessions that include de-escalation and crisis intervention team principles, as well as equipping all patrol officers with body worn cameras by the end of 2016.

Additionally, the department would continue to expand recruitment campaigns designed to encourage people of color to apply for jobs with the Police Department.

On April 27, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Liu in connection with the sexual assault allegations against Lai, charging Liu with one felony count of making a false statement in a police report, and two misdemeanor counts of delaying or obstructing a peace officer.

Last month, investigators with the District Attorney’s Office found there was insufficient evidence to charge Lai with sexual assault, and instead charged him with two misdemeanor counts of unlawful possession of local criminal offender history information and four misdemeanor counts of misuse of confidential Department of Motor Vehicles information. The information leading to those charges was uncovered during the rape investigation.

President of the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association, Martin Halloran, gave a stern warning April 29 to members of the Police Department.

“Bigotry like this needs to be stamped out,” Halloran said in a statement. “Our union prides itself in treating everyone with equal respect, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, or religion. If any officer does not meet our high standards, they should resign now.”

On April 27, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who released the text of many of Lai’s messages this week, said the revelation had led his office to review 207 cases connected with the four officers for signs of possible bias.

This is the second time since last year that the department has faced a scandal because of text messages uncovered during a criminal investigation of an officer.

A previous set of racist text messages exchanged among a group of officers in 2011 and 2012 were uncovered during a federal investigation into allegations of theft against one officer and were made public in March 2015.

In that case, Suhr ultimately moved to fire seven officers in connection with those messages, however the terminations were overturned in December after a judge found the department had waited too long to act.

When asked April 29 about recent a hunger strike taking place outside of the Mission District police station since last week, in which activists are demanding for Suhr’s resignation along with Mayor Ed Lee’s, Suhr said he had no intention of resigning and instead vowed to see that reforms within the Police Department would be implemented.

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