Opinion » Editorial

Editorial: SFPD's dress codes outdated

by BAR Editorial Board

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. Photo: Rick Gerharter
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

A San Francisco Police officer who identifies as nonbinary reportedly was sent home last week after he was reprimanded for wearing earrings while on-duty. The officer, Rubin Rhodes, took a knee outside SFPD's Mission Station during a June 3 protest that was organized by youth to demonstrate solidarity with Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.

The reprimand of Rhodes caused swift backlash and police Chief William Scott responded that the department's dress codes would be revised. As we reported last week, department policy prohibits male officers from wearing earrings on-duty. Rhodes, who uses male pronouns, told the San Francisco Examiner, which first reported on his being reprimanded June 5, that he has worn earrings to work most days over the last five years and his doing so had only been an issue once before. According to the article, Rhodes wouldn't characterize his being sent home as retaliation but did call it "nonsensical."

Scott, who is also a black man and took a knee alongside Mayor London Breed during a demonstration against police brutality in front of City Hall recently, is working to revise the dress code policy, according to a statement from Matt Dorsey, the department's communications director.

"While the San Francisco Police Department can't comment on specific personnel issues, Department General Orders governing SFPD's uniform and equipment requirements and grooming standards are in the process of being updated at this time," stated Dorsey, a gay man who formerly was the spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Jeff Cretan, a spokesman for Breed, also told the B.A.R. that the dress code policy would be updated.

"The mayor is a strong supporter of the rights of all people to be free from discrimination and unequal policies in the workplace. This policy is out of date and needs to be updated to reflect consistent standards regardless of gender identity," he stated. "If earrings are acceptable for one individual, they should be acceptable for everyone. Additionally, we are asking all of our departments with uniformed personnel to review their policies for any other similar inequities. We have to continue our work, like the mayor did with requiring nonbinary options on all city forms, to update our policies and procedures to be inclusive of all our workers and residents."

During a panel discussion Monday night with members of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, Scott said that he had been in the process of holding focus groups about the dress code before the novel coronavirus outbreak led to stay-at-home orders. He said the meetings would resume virtually, and that beards, tattoos, and other jewelry would also be considered.

It's about time that these dress codes are updated for law enforcement departments. SFPD is working to recruit LGBT and other minority candidates, and conforming to rigid dress codes that are unevenly enforced is a distraction from the goal of diversifying the department. We need more officers from underrepresented communities as well as better training on de-escalation techniques, improving community relations, and a reallocation of resources to where they might be more effective.

The general orders need to be swiftly revised and approved so that officers like Rhodes feel that they belong to the department, not ostracized from it.

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