Richard Finis became San Francisco’s first African American full-time police officer in 1947. In the 1940s, black police officers in San Francisco were often temporarily employed to fulfill the shortage of officers who had gone overseas to fight in World War II or serve in the military after the war (Rojas). When Finis got sworn into duty, he found that his white colleagues harbored racial prejudice against all black people in the department. Richard Finis’ 16-year career as an officer sparked the organization of black officers who demanded respect and fairness for black police officers in San Francisco.
During the post-war era, black officers were looked down upon by their white colleagues and were subjected “to the worst details,” while rarely being promoted within the division (Dulaney).
Finis’ brother-in-law, Levi Harper, explained that “When Finis came on, he caught hell. . . . None of the white officers would work with him. It just got to be too much pressure, so he quit.” According to author W. Marvin Dulaney in his book Black Police in America, another reason for his resigning was that Finis’ assignments were unfair and biased. Unfortunately, the racial taunting and discrimination within the institution was a trend that many African American officers faced.
Richard Hongisto, a San Francisco police officer from 1960–1970, stated that it was not uncommon for white officers to refer to their black coworkers using racial slurs (Dulaney). Richard Finis eventually became fed up with his discriminatory peers and quit the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) in 1963. Finis’ assignments were unfair and he especially disliked being ordered to exclusively patrol the Hunters Point area, San Francisco’s majority black district. Richard felt that the SFPD was trying to hide him from the public because of his status as the first African American police officer in the city (Dulaney).
In 1947, Richard Finis served as San Francisco’s first African American Police Officer. He worked for SFPD for 16 years before moving to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
After Finis quit, black officers reflected on Finis’ treatment and created an association within the SFPD to address racism and harassment of black people in the workplace. Led by Officer Henry Williams and Richard Hongisto, the Officers for Justice (OFJ) organization was created to alleviate the racist environment of SFPD and to demand fair career advancements for black officers. After suing the city, the SFPD, and the Civil Service Commission, the OFJ was successful in “mandating the hiring of minority officers on a quota basis . . . and obtained a consent decree ordering the department to promote minority officers to the rank of sergeant, regardless of their position on the civil service eligible list” (Dulaney). The OFJ state that this lawsuit helped change “the face of the San Francisco Police Department” and has contributed toward there being much more diversity in the ranks of the SFPD (Williams).
Since its inception, the OFJ has taken political action against certain issues. For example, the organization sent a letter to Mayor Ed Lee stating their disapproval of increasing the use of tasers in the department. The OFJ believed that the tasers would be disproportionately “used on certain classes of people like drug abusers, mentally disabled, and minorities” (ABC7).
Before moving to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office in the early 1960s, Richard Finis endured harassment and discrimination from his colleagues and the San Francisco Police Department. However, without his sacrifice, the advancement of equality and fairness for African American people in the SFPD might not have been started. Richard Finis’ commitment to San Francisco will be remembered for generations to come.
— Elijah Williams and Olivia Walker
ABC7 Archive. “SF’s Officers for Justice comes out against Tasers.” ABC7 San Francisco, https://abc 7news.com/archive/9038055/.
Dulaney, W. Marvin. Black Police in America. Indiana University Press. 1997.
Johnson, Clarence. “Black Officers Say Racism Still Problem in S.F.” SF Chronicle. 25 Feb 1993.
Rojas, Aurelio. “Mourners Recall S.F. Cop Who Broke Color Line.” SFGate. 30 Jan 2012.
Williams, Rodney. “About Us.” Officers for Justice, http://offi cersforjustice.org/about-us.html.