SF Police chief says property crime units are a go and supervisors back off

The Board of Supervisors agreed to stay out of police business today by withdrawing proposed legislation to compel the SFPD to create special property crime units. Hours earlier, Chief of Police Bill Scott stepped up to create the units on his own.

It was probably the closest thing there is to a win win between civilians and police.

The announcement came after a special committee hearing for the a binding ordinance to compel the SFPD to form the units. Now supervisors will vote on a resolution.

A binding ordinance, argued supervisors Norman Yee, Jeff Sheehy, Hillary Ronen and Sandra Lee Fewer, is unnecessary because the police department is already working on implementing changes to combat car break-ins and bicycle theft similar to strategies the legislation would have mandated.

In a sense Scott had asked them – politely – to butt out.

“What I asked the supervisors… is to allow me as chief of police and our folks… to come up with a plan to do our jobs,” he said. “We definitely welcome the accountability… I don’t believe that deployment of police resources should be a thing that’s legislated, it opens up other issues.”

Ronen lauded Scott’s efforts toward police reform, transparency, and community outreach as well as his recent announcement that the department would double foot patrols citywide, and quadruple them in the Mission.

“When he came to speak to me and said, ‘I hate when I’m hampered by legislation and when you dictate how I deploy my officers,’ and I said, ‘I get that, that makes sense but I am not happy with the way the police department is addressing property crimes in my district,’” she said.

So they sat down to negotiate.

“And when we found out that we had almost the same vision, I had the confidence in our police chief that he’s going to implement this vision, that has not been implemented in the city for many years. This change is happening right now,” Ronen said.

In its original form, the legislation would have mandated the creation of the property crime units at every station and recommended that at least one officer at each station be assigned there. The police department would have to propose a budget for the units to the Police Commission every year, and develop a specific plan to address property crimes.

Speaking at the committee hearing before the announcement that the ordinance would become a resolution, Scott illustrated some of the recent trends in property crime and what police plan to do to address them.

Car break-ins more than doubled from 2012 to 2015, but from a year-to-date comparison between this year and last year indicates a 25 percent increase, from just under 16,000 to nearly 20,000, Scott said.

According to legislative staff for Ronen and Yee, car break-ins in the Mission District rose from 700 to 1,600 reported this year.

“It’s going in the wrong direction and we gotta try something different,” Scott said.

Along with the recently doubled foot patrols, which Scott said have already shown to be an effective crime deterrent, and the dedicated property crime units, police are launching an public education campaign to all neighborhoods to educate drivers about how to reduce risks of car break-ins.

City residents turned out to the committee hearing to voice their strong support of the ordinance, and lauded especially the creation of station-specific units.

“An important thing about neighborhoods is that the bike theft profile is different in every neighborhood,” said resident Bert Hill.

The supervisors pledged their support to any future budget supplements the police department might need to be able to allocate resources to property crime.

One resident and activist was skeptical of the softening of the ordinance to a resolution. Buck Bagot, a Bernal Heights resident who has most recently been active in trying to track car-break ins and secure a strong sentence for an assault suspect in the neighborhood, was not convinced a resolution would be enough.

“I don’t trust police to change the way they do things, because they think they know best,” he said. “At least they’re [the supervisors] continuing to hold the threat of legislation over their heads.”

After making their announcement, the supervisors on the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee voted to continue the proposal to the next committee meeting on October 11. 

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