San Francisco Gets a Long, Ugly Look at SFPD Windshield Perspective
1:45 PM PST on December 14, 2012
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."
T 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:
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.
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.
Greg SuhrChief of Police, San Francisco Police Department
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