SAN FRANCISCO, July 19, 2016: Morgan Lewis played an integral role in crafting recommended revisions to the city of San Francisco’s police use of force policy—an issue with critical national implications. The work was done pro bono as the firm’s contribution to a newly released report culminating a year-long investigation into potential issues of bias in the San Francisco Police Department.
Morgan Lewis partner Colin West headed a team of seven of the firm’s lawyers who produced the section on Use of Force and Officer Involved Shooting that was included in the July 11 report by The Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement. The report’s recommendations were guided by three retired California judges who constituted the blue ribbon panel.
The Morgan Lewis team, in coordination with the panel, also participated directly with the San Francisco Police Commission as the commission crafted new use of force policies that are expected to be established. In that role, the team was the only one of seven working groups drawn from law firms in the city that had the opportunity to directly shape, draft, and revise actual policies.
“I’m extremely proud of our team and its incredibly hard work on this subject of such importance to our city,” said Mr. West. “We are hoping that our efforts are translated into policies and procedures that make us all, citizens and law enforcement personnel, safer.”
The Morgan Lewis team interviewed prominent use of force experts, San Francisco police officers, community members, and individuals who had been subjected to force during incidents with the police. They also participated in a series of town hall meetings and public hearings.
In addition to advising that the city’s district attorney play a greater role in overseeing investigations of use of force incidents, the use of force section recommended that officers receive greater training to emphasize a “guardian” rather than “warrior” mentality, and that they place greater emphasis on de-escalating confrontations. It also found shortcomings with a recordkeeping system that relies on paper documentation rather than electronic file-keeping.
“Paper records are harder to create and harder to access,” Mr. West said. “They make it virtually impossible to compile a true picture of what’s happening.”
Initiated by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón as an advisory body in May 2015, the Blue Ribbon Panel was tasked with investigating potential institutionalized bias in the police department in the wake of revelations that 14 officers had exchanged numerous racist and homophobic text messages.