San Francisco Gets a Long, Ugly Look at SFPD Windshield Perspective


Video via SFist.
A video of an off-duty SF police officer allegedly speeding through the Broadway Tunnel at 100 mph, possibly drunk, has sparked an outcry from street safety advocates.

SFPD Sergeant Carl T (that’s his full legal name) posted the video on his Facebook page in September, eliciting comments from fellow officers who joked and reminisced about a past gory traffic incident in the tunnel, according to SFist, which broke the story.

In response to an email from Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr said officer T has been placed on administrative duty while the incident is being investigated, and that “I can assure you that no one is more ‘taken aback and concerned’ that one my officers would potentially disregard basic street safety and put people in danger this way — or would even joke about it, than I am.”

“In the event that this event proves to have happened as reported,” he said, “I can assure you that the discipline dispensed will be swift and severe.”

told SF Weekly that he was joking when he posted on Facebook that “we were all drunk,” and that he was neither driving nor filming the video.

The comment thread on Facebook, captured by SFist (the initial post and T’s account have since been deleted), provides a chilling glimpse of the attitude some SFPD officers display when it comes to reckless behavior on the streets:

The comments ranged from jokey: “That’s a lot of people sitting on laps” — referring to the 10 people tagged in the video. To ribbing: “Only 100?” To encouraging: “Used to do it regularly on the solos going home off the 1900-0300 watch,” wrote one Officer Ben Mcalister, who has a history of disciplinary cases.

Even Captain Al Casciato, who received an “Above and Beyond” award from the department earlier this year, didn’t go very far to discourage the thrill-seeking behavior. Instead Captain Casciato reminisced with other officers who used the comment thread to joke about the time one officer found a decapitated head of a motorcycle rider in the tunnel. If the comments are any indication, gory photos of that incident were passed around the department for a laugh:
broadwaytunnelcomments.jpg

Supervisors Mark Farrell and David Chiu also weighed in on the issue to KTVU. Farrell called the video “offensive,” adding that “it violates our public safety here in our city.” Chiu called it “absolutely dangerous and inappropriate behavior.”

That some SFPD officers seem to view city streets as a playground for high-speed driving is disturbing, to say the least, and it only bolsters the perception that many police have a deeply ingrained windshield perspective. The way this point of view affects the department’s conduct is evident in repeated cases of police bias against bicyclists and pedestrians, and the glaring unwillingness to hold drivers accountable for killing and maiming vulnerable street users.

Stampe’s email to the department and Suhr’s full response are below:

Dear Chief Suhr, Commander Ali, and Captain O’Leary,

I am writing in response to the media stories in the SF Weekly, on CBS, and KTVU about the SFPD officer who allegedly filmed himself speeding, reporting his speed as 100 mph, in the Broadway tunnel, and saying he was drunk.

Just this year, at the Mayor’s Pedestrian Safety Task Force meeting, the Captain of the Traffic Company reported to us that the SFPD’s much-needed efforts to control speeding had recorded people driving in the Broadway and Stockton tunnels going 81 and 83 miles per hour. We were all taken aback, and very glad for the SFPD’s efforts to prevent speeding when the need for enforcement is so clear.

I am far more taken aback and concerned that one of your own officers would potentially disregard basic street safety and put people in danger this way — or would even joke about it.

I understand that Captain O’Leary is working with the SFMTA on an enforcement plan to improve street safety and reduce traffic violence, using police data to target the most dangerous behaviors in the most dangerous locations. I ask you to move that forward quickly, because behavior change is clearly needed.

–Elizabeth
___________

Elizabeth,

I can assure you that no one is more “taken aback and concerned” that one my officers would potentially disregard basic street safety and put people in danger this way — or would even joke about it, than I am.

To that end, the Sergeant involved has been removed from Central Station and reassigned to administrative duties while the Internal Affairs investogation is completed. In the event that this event proves to have happened as reported, I can assure you that the discipline dispensed will be swift and severe.

We are working with the SFMTA on an enforcement plan to improve street safety and reduce traffic violence, using police data to target the most dangerous behaviors in the most dangerous locations and we are moving forward quickly, because behavior change is clearly needed.

Best Regards,

Greg Suhr
Chief of Police, San Francisco Police Department

  • Fire this asshole, and strip him of his pension. He does not deserve to be in the service of the public.

  • Ggray97

    Why is he still in the SFPD? he should have been fired without any benefits at all. Get rid of rogue cops before they cause someone to be killed.

  • Anonymous

    This is ridiculous. Fire these clowns. This is unacceptable. And the car-centric bias is utterly astounding. What if there was a cyclist in this tunnel? How can we possible expect these types of police officers to be able to judge what is safe and what is dangerous behavior when they have no problem going 100 mph through the nation’s 2nd most dense city and joking about decapitated motorcyclists who presumably did something similar? We must have higher standards than this for those who are tasked with upholding the law.

  • Davistrain

    Posted it on Facebook?  Sheesh!  Brings to mind the old New England saying, “The whale doesn’t get harpooned until he comes up to spout.”

  • Gisela Schmoll

    I also wonder how much of the car centric bias in the police force is because so many of the officers do not live in the city.  If our officers are commuting in from suburbia is it any wonder that they have limited exposure to the realities of pedestrians and bicyclists.  What is called for is more cops doing their beat via foot and bike rather than in patrol cars.

  • The “cyclist in tunnel” signal was actually lit as he entered the tunnel (though I didn’t see one in there).

  • mikesonn

    That “cyclist in tunnel” sign should be ripped down and the person who came up with the idea to put it there should be fired.

  • mikesonn

    There are several bike and foot patrols in North Beach. Not nearly enough though.

  • Sprague

    This speeding is even more objectionable in light of the illuminated bicycle warning  sign.  The sign is there to encourage motorists to be more alert and proceed with caution…  Thank you Aaron for posting this and exposing the windshield perspective that contributes to SF being such a nasty city for pedestrians and bicyclists.

  • Guest

    I measured the average speed through the tunnel by and it seems to be a bit over 70 MPH (0.38 miles in 19 seconds).  The speed limit sign read 35 MPH.

  • Anonymous

    There sure has been a lot of sensationalism about this. I’m confused though – if this was indeed a human rights violation, why wasn’t it reported, oh I don’t know THREE MONTHS AGO when the video was posted?

    Just asking a question.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe because many people consider entitled, dangerous, double-standard behavior on the part of the police to be sadly commonplace, and it took a while for someone with higher expectations to view the video and be justifiably outraged?

  • Bruce Halperin

    That’s about what I calculated as well.

  • Michael Morris

    I don’t have any objection to them joking about the head, policeman are extremly desensitized to stuff like that and their reactions are going to differ from the average person. I’ve never heard the phrase “winsheld perspective” before but I think it perfectly describes the cops attitudes relating to driving. If cops sepnd all day in a car they are more likely to identify with drivers, more walking/biking cops might draw attention to walking/biking safety issues.

  • TP

     

    Friend
    of mine worked few years as an officer in the East Coast. He said majority of
    the officers on his night shift usually hit a bar in the start of each shift
    and liquor themselves up pretty well. Some would even carry around booze with
    them to pour in their coffee mugs to drink during their patrol. Though he said nothing
    bad ever happens from what he has seen as long as they’re not caught doing so. He
    said all officers still did their job efficiently when liquored up.

     

    Also
    walk by beat cops all the time during Friday night bar hops. Several times when
    I walked by some of them, they reeked of booze.

  • mike

    mikesonn – The sign is there for people who choose to ride their bike in the tunnel. It was designed to be extinguishable (ie. off when not in use) so it would be turned on when people rode over the sensors into the tunnel. Though you have stated that you do not ride on the tunnel roadway, this is for those who do, to improve their safety.

  • Anonymous

    @df4b98aef659ee5ae18426484a7d261b:disqus I could be wrong, but I think what @mikesonn:disqus is getting at is that the sign is being used as a cop-out for a real solution: a designated, protected bicycle lane. It’s a way traffic engineers who are contributing to the car-centric status quo can feel like they’ve absolved themselves from any blame when cyclists are maimed or killed due to car-centric infrastructure that almost completely neglects cyclists unique needs.

  • mikesonn

    mike, have you ridden on the roadway in that tunnel? I have … once. Let’s say you are new to cycling or a tourist and you come up the tunnel and see there is a push button to activate a “cyclists in tunnel” light – not to mention you can’t get on the sidewalk now because it started 150′ behind you. Now you hit that button and go happily along thinking that drivers will respect that light. Then SURPRISE! you get buzzed by two cabbies going 50+ mph barely missing you because of the blind curves.

    But also because of what @jd_x:disqus said. This is a major cop-out on the part of the city officials. I really really hope no one gets hurts but this is putting people in harms way.

  • mike

    mikesonn, yes, I have ridden in the tunnel – at least a dozen times eastbound and a few times westbound, which is scarier since it is uphill. I’ve also driven and walked through the tunnel. It’s not for everyone, but it is for some people, and for those the sign provides some warning to motorists. Secondly, what you are describing simply doesn’t exist. 1) There is no push button. The sign automatically senses you with sensors in the roadway that are invisible to cyclists. And the extinguishable sign is off most of the time so it is not “enticing” some poor unsuspecting soul to enter the tunnel. 2) There are no blind curves. There is soft curve, but you can see far ahead as a driver. This is not to say that nothing more can or should be done for the tunnel, but in the meantime, this sign – along with the lowered speed limit (from 40 to 35) – gives cyclists something. One idea is to allow cyclists on the sidewalk, something that was discussed years ago, but there was significant opposition by some to allow cyclists to mix with peds on that narrow walkway.

  • mikesonn

    Like I said, I haven’t been on the road in the tunnel since so guess I was wrong about the way the light picks up cyclists though a sensor doesn’t really seem like the best way to do it.

    I currently slow roll on the sidewalk if I do bike through the tunnel, so does nearly everyone else.

    And you are right, the curves are soft but at 50+ mph that doesn’t make that much difference.

  • mike

    The push button that doesn’t exist is bad, and a sensor in the roadway “doesn’t really seem like the best way to do it.” OK…

    You can see what’s in the curb lane down the tunnel fine, even with the slight curve and when driving at higher speeds. If that wasn’t the case, I would not ever ride in that lane and one would hear about a lot of serious crashes in the tunnel.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG