A Missed Opportunity

Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus proved that progressive policing works. It's too bad that the rest of the Bay Area has not yet learned that lesson.

By any measure, Chris Magnus’ record as Richmond’s chief of police has been extraordinary. When he arrived in 2006, Richmond was still known as one of the most violent cities in the United States. But by 2014, that was no longer the case — not by a long shot. During Magnus’ tenure, violent crime in Richmond plummeted by 31 percent, and the number of homicides in the city dropped by an astonishing 74 percent — from 42 in 2006 to 11 last year.

But what was truly newsworthy about Magnus’ success was that he turned around Richmond using progressive policing techniques. He had no interest in so-called “tough-on-crime” tactics like stop-and-frisk, gang injunctions, and youth curfews, and instead embraced community policing, while holding police officers accountable for their actions. As a result, use-of-force complaints plunged, as did the number of officer-involved shootings. And as reporter John Geluardi noted in his news story in the Express last week, “Goodbye, Mr. Magnus,” the chief made improving relations between RPD and the community his top priority.

Indeed, Magnus’ remarkable record in Richmond provides compelling evidence that advocates of “getting tough on crime” have been wrong all along — and that progressives and civil rights advocates have been right. Magnus proved that the answer to a high crime rate is not to employ a police force that “cracks down” on the streets and harasses people because of where they live or the color of their skin, but rather treats citizens with dignity and respect and targets the actual lawbreakers.

Unfortunately, most politicians in the Bay Area (outside of Richmond) have yet to learn those lessons. Because if they had, then Magnus wouldn’t be heading to Tucson in January to take over that police department and instead would have been hired to turn around another one here, while lowering crime at the same time.

Magnus, for example, would have been a perfect fit for San Francisco — a city that badly needs a new top cop. The tenure of Chief Greg Suhr has been a disaster, rocked by numerous police officer misconduct scandals, including a few involving Suhr himself, and a stubbornly high crime rate. Moreover, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported in June, SFPD, under Suhr, has gotten worse in recent years when it comes to targeting people of color.

Likewise, San Jose could desperately use a chief like Magnus who holds cops accountable and prizes community policing and rigorous training. As the San Jose Mercury News reported in May, the San Jose Police Department has an extremely troubling record of racially profiling Latino residents in that city, stopping and searching them for no valid reason.

And while the Oakland Police Department has made some progress in recent years under Chief Sean Whent, it’s obvious that it, too, still has a long way to go — as evidenced by an in-depth story by the Chronicle last weekend. Reporter Joaquin Palomino (a former Express contributor) found that OPD is still stopping and searching innocent Black residents in large numbers and at wildly disproportionate rates. OPD often cites the vague legal standard of “reasonable suspicion” for stopping and searching Blacks who have done nothing wrong. Of people stopped for “reasonable suspicion” from September 2014 to September 2015, about 70 percent were Black, even though Blacks make up just 26.5 percent of Oakland’s population. Moreover, the vast majority of those stops resulted in no arrest and no discovery of contraband. Blacks in Oakland are also far more likely to be stopped, searched, and harassed for minor traffic violations and vehicle code infractions.

Civil rights attorney Jim Chanin, who keeps close tabs on OPD and is part of the oversight process of the department as a result of a federal consent decree, believes that OPD officers still need better training. He noted that while some Oakland cops have done a good job reducing the number of Blacks and Latinos they stop and search, others have not. “We have squads that are performing badly right next to squads that are performing well,” Chanin said. “That proves to me that there is still room for improvement.”

But as bad as Oakland still is, Berkeley is worse, Chanin said. And the numbers back up his assertion. In September, a coalition of groups, including the Berkeley NAACP, the ACLU of Berkeley, the National Lawyers Guild, the UC Berkeley Black Student Union, and Berkeley Copwatch released a data analysis showing that Berkeley police regularly engage in racial profiling. The statistics, which came from Berkeley PD, revealed that Black people accounted for 30 percent of all traffic stops and 56.6 percent of all searches in the city this year even though they make up just 8.4 percent of Berkeley’s residents. And even though Blacks are stopped and searched far more often, they’re much less likely to be arrested or cited. In other words, Berkeley police are harassing lots of Black people simply because of the color of their skin. “It’s like if you’re an African American walking around in Berkeley, the first reaction is, ‘Why are you here?'” Chanin said.

Berkeley, in short, could desperately use a progressive leader like Magnus. But instead, the city’s leadership is content with a department that racially profiles its citizens of color. Same goes for San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland.

And it’s painfully ironic that the leaders of a city in a red state like Arizona figured out that progressive policing is the answer — before the rest of the “liberal” Bay Area.

Correction: The orginal version of this story misstated the month in which the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the San Francisco Police Department, under Police Chief Greg Suhr, had gotten worse in recent years when it comes to targeting people of color. It was June 2015 — not July.


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