Trained In De-Escalation, Police Recruits Walk Mission

Trained in De-Escalation, Police Recruits Walk Mission   

August 29, 2016

by Joe Rivano Barros

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The San Francisco Police Department’s newest recruit class of 46 — 38 men and eight women — walked through the Mission District on Thursday to meet those they would be policing and serving.

“Fuck the police!” yelled one woman at the 16th Street Bart Station as the large group crossed 16th Street.

“It’s understandable for black Americans to be upset,” said Jaron White, a 29-year-old black recruit who grew up in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point. By joining law enforcement, he says he as a black officer is helping improving the Police Department. All of the new recruits are part of the first class trained with de-escalation tactics, including new body-worn cameras and training meant to emphasize “time and distance” when confronting suspects.

“I understand your struggle, I’ve been through your struggle,” said another black recruit, 28-year-old Mike Hill from the Fillmore. Hill said that “of course” black lives matter, but that he hoped to “bridge the gap” between the police and communities of color by becoming an officer.

“I understand why they say stuff like that,” he said. “At the same time, being upset is one thing, but also wanting to something about it. We’re doing something about it.”

The new class has 20 white recruits, 7 black recruits, 7 Latinos, 9 Asians, and 3 Filipinos, according to the Police Department. In contract, San Francisco as a whole is 41 percent white, 6 percent black, 15 percent Latino, 35 percent Asian, and just 0.5 percent Pacific Islander, according to the Census Bureau.

The group continued its walk toward 24th Street, where recruits were scheduled to meet with children at an after-school program. Along the way, they spoke about their backgrounds, community policing, and how they would act as police officers at a controversial time for the San Francisco Police Department.

Asked about the fatal police shooting of Mario Woods in December 2015, White said it was “always sad” when a life was lost and “hard, every time,” but that “being on this side” of law enforcement, he understood “why it happens sometimes.”

He recalled the death of his friend, Camilo Senchyna, who was working as an EMT when he was shot and killed outside of Bruno’s bar trying to break up a fight.

“A good friend of mine was killed in the Mission not far, at Bruno’s, two years ago,” he said.

The tour on Thursday — which involved the recruits, police spokespeople, and a squad car constantly following the group around the neighborhood — was one of several taken by the class through San Francisco.

The walkaround, meant to “meet with Mission district residents and business owners,” according to a police statement, involved little interaction with shop owners or passersby other than the occasional greeting.

Instead, recruits started from Mission Station at 17th and Valencia streets and took a quick stroll through Clarion Alley.

“Go ahead, start taking a look at the murals,” said Sergeant Jeffrey Aloise, leading the group between murals reading “Housing is a Human Right” and “Men! All of You: Put Your Guns Down.”

Asked about some of the deadly police shootings in the Mission District — that of Alex Nieto in March 2014, Amilcar Perez Lopez in February 2015, and Luis Gongora Pat this year in April — those spoken to did not know the victims’ names.

Asked what “community policing” looked like in a neighborhood like the Mission District — where witnesses say an immigrant like Perez Lopez did not understood police commands before he was shot, and Gongora Pat had been evicted and made homeless just two years before his death — recruits stuck to a familiar de-escalation refrain: time and distance.

“The biggest thing is just time,” said Shalane Jackson, a 21-year-old black recruit, repeating what others said about lowering tensions when confronting someone. “Things were just happening too fast.”

“If they’re not coming at you, you have all the time in the world,” said Nicole Rissetto, a 29-year-old white recruit. Rissetto said the class had not yet undergone crisis-intervention training — which is being rolled out to senior officers first, she said — but knew to create “time and distance” when confronting a suspect.

“It seems like that’s the change that we’re going through,” she said of the emphasis on de-escalation.

After a walk down to the 16th Street Bart Station and a walk back down Mission Street towards 24th Street, the recruits went to Mission Education Projects Inc. on the corner with Treat Avenue. There, they played with children for another hour, building Jenga towers and handing out stickers reading “Junior SFPD Officer” before leaving in police vans.

Recruits said the walking tour was the kind of activity the department should emphasize. Lary Cortes, a Latina recruit from Redwood City, said she hoped to be assigned to the Mission District to focus on non-violent solutions to tension.

“What the community wants is less violence, less force,” she said, also saying the force and the Latino community needed more females in positions of power. “I want to be able to know that we are doing things differently.”

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