Leadership Failure in the San Francisco Police Department: The Exodus Continues

Leadership Failure in the San Francisco Police Department: The Exodus Continues
San Francisco police recruits at the San Francisco Police Academy on May 15, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Rich Cibotti
In a startling act of journalism, the Mission Local this week finally wrote about a topic near and dear to my heart, the diaspora of San Francisco cops headed off to greener pastures. In the piece, the author discusses many topics that make up why cops are leaving.

Among those in the article are police reform, retirement, and “low morale.” While all of these contribute to the exodus, a failure of leadership is the ultimate cause that bears responsibility.

In Jocko Willink’s seminal work on leadership, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” he discusses how a leader must own all of the mistakes.

“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”

I remember the moment I read that line in the book a few years ago. Then when reading the Mission Local piece, all you see is a lot of excuses being offered, not solutions. It’s outside factors like low political support; it’s bad media reporting; it’s unworkable policy. While all of those are pieces that make up the problem, they are all excuses used to distract from a complete failure of leadership.

The true answer is hidden in plain sight but obscured by the excuses. The answer to the problem can be found in this line from the article: “[Chief] Scott also acknowledged the morale issue isn’t a new one; he said one Stanford survey made this finding two years ago with members of the police force.”

Where is the report from this Stanford study? Why has the study’s report not been made public? What has happened over the past two years to help fix any of the issues found in the study? Why are we commissioning studies if we are not then using the information yielded to improve the department?

When a public records request was made for the Stanford report, why was the report not returned? The report or its findings obviously exist if the chief is discussing it. Why does the Department keep stalling on releasing any of this information? Why does the SFPD want to hide this study?

I heard from a source with knowledge of the Stanford study’s findings that it is highly critical of the Command Staff.

The only public information I can find on the Stanford report or findings is a slide from Chief Scott’s presentation to the Police Commission on June 8, 2022. Its title is “Factors Impacting Morale,” and in addition to reasons such as politics, lack of resources, and lack of support from the public, there is a section called “Internal Support,” which lists the following items: “Internal Procedural Justice within the Department; The consistency and fairness of Command Staff; Command Staff attention or concern for the health and wellbeing of line officers; The level of trust the Command Staff has in its officers; Lack of organizational support for line officers.”

Wow, I wonder why only 20 people per academy class want to sign up to be a part of that department. Don’t you want to work in a place where no one seems to care for you, there’s no consistency or fairness from the higher ups, and the same higher ups do not trust you?

Why can’t we recruit more? It’s staring at us all, right in this slide. In addition to recruiting difficulties, losing over 10 percent of staffing in under two years should’ve been ringing big red alarms that there’s a problem.

This is a leadership failure. This is a major problem that must be addressed before any improvement happens within the department.

Later in Willink’s opus, he offers more insightful wisdom that must be shared: “The most fundamental and important truths at the heart of Extreme Ownership: There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”

To give credit where credit is due, at least the Mission Local is finally writing about the staffing issue. I have been writing about it for years now, and it seems to keep falling on deaf ears. Maybe now that it’s far too late to try and save hundreds of cops from leaving, and no new cops are coming in, the city will realize the problems that an insane anti-law-and-order DA and the “Defund” movement have caused.

The Department management wasted years sitting on its hands while having the information it needed to help improve the department. The years of street cop experience that were lost will never be replaced, and it’s inexcusable.

If you think “reform” and resistance to change caused the exodus, well, then you might be a Command Staff member.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Rich Cibotti is a Sergeant in the San Francisco Police Department and a primary instructor at the SFPD Police Academy, and he is also a licensed attorney. Visit his site at RichCibotti.Substack.com. All opinions are Rich Cibotti's own and do not reflect that of the San Francisco Police Department.
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