Hectic days in SFPD’s officer-involved shooting unit

So many shootings, so little time

Apparently, the one San Francisco Police Department sergeant tasked with investigating officer-involved shootings has been busy. Yesterday morning, the Guardian received an email from SFPD Media Relations officer Albie Esparza, who apologized for taking almost a month to respond to a Guardian request for information.

“It's simply been very busy with the multiple officer involved shootings we've been having in SF recently,” Esparza explained. “The ONE Sergeant who works in the Internal Affairs Officer Involved Shooting unit is aware of your questions and is trying to research that, as well as investigate the three OIS incidents we've had recently.” 

Reached by phone, Esparza said he actually meant to say there were four officer-involved shooting investigations; one involves a Daly City officer who fired upon a person in San Francisco city limits in early March. And whoops, as of yesterday, make that five – an officer shot and killed a pit-bull yesterday in Golden Gate Park.

The three shootings Esparza initally referred to include a March 15 officer-involved shooting in the Richmond District; another one on March 5 in Bayview Hunters Point, and a third one on Feb. 15 in the Tenderloin. Only the March 5 shooting resulted in an individual being struck; he wasn't killed. Police later held a town hall meeting about that incident, which transpired after a high-speed chase that ended in a cul-de-sac. The suspect drove into two police cars and hit an officer, according to the police department's account, before officers shot at him. Esparza said he did not have information about whether the incident involving the Daly City officer resulted in a fatal gunshot wound.

The Guardian’s original questions, meanwhile, remain unanswered. We submitted a query regarding a fatal officer-involved shooting that killed Pralith Pralourng last July. The 32-year-old Oakland resident had a history of mental illness, and was killed outside a chocolate factory in San Francisco after brandishing a box cutter. Police Chief Greg Suhr has pointed to this case as a prime example for why police ought to be equipped with Tasers. But the SFPD launched a specialized crisis intervention training (CIT) program over the last several years specifically to help officers better respond to calls involving mentally ill individuals. Local advocates weighing in at recent public hearings convened by SFPD said they feared the department could lose sight of CIT de-escalation tactics if the Tasers plan moves forward. 

The Guardian submitted questions to SFPD in late February asking whether the officer who shot and killed Pralourng had been trained under CIT; if any CIT officers were dispatched to the scene, since the call involved a mentally ill individual; and whether CIT de-escalation techniques were attempted prior to the shooting.

After nearly a month, Esparza finally sent a response from SFPD internal affairs. “We were told that because it’s open and active, the file is exempt from disclosure,” he said. Basically, we hit a dead end and were told to try again later. When things aren't so busy.