On May 19, Supervisor Norman Yee introduced a potential Charter Amendment that would mandate San Francisco Police staffing levels be set every other year via a data-driven process.
The city recently underwrote just such a process, and it resulted in the suggestion of hiring some 265 more cops — an outcome Yee said is “a fair analysis.”
One week after Yee introduced his potential ballot measure, Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, triggering worldwide protests and thrusting the notion of “defunding” police departments — reallocating their responsibilities and resources — from the fringes into the political mainstream.
Crucially in a post-George Floyd world, Yee’s legislation would do away with the city’s Charter-mandated minimum of maintaining 1,971 sworn officers. Without this Charter Amendment or one like it, the city cannot lower SFPD staffing levels.
For this reason, the Police Officers Association is notably displeased with Yee’s legislation.
“The SFPOA opposes Supervisor Yee’s reckless Charter Amendment. This is nothing more than an open invitation to eliminate police officers and reduce safety in our neighborhoods,” POA president Tony Montoya wrote to Mission Local last month.
“Combine our current crime crisis with our new District Attorney’s criminals’-first [sic] agenda and the last thing our residents need are fewer officers.”
As Yee’s potential Charter Amendment would affect staffing levels — and, potentially, on-the-job safety — he is mandated to engage with the POA in good-faith “meet and confer” sessions.
This can be a time-consuming process, but time is a luxury Yee does not have. The deadline to submit his Charter Amendment for November’s ballot is July 21.
If Yee’s Charter Amendment does not make the November ballot, the next opportunity to place a Charter Amendment on San Francisco’s ballot won’t come until 2022.
Heavy-duty alterations to the police department – a step that many are calling for – are hard to imagine without some manner of Charter Amendment and public vote, and the public appetite for this in 2022 may not be what it is now.
Messages for the POA have not yet been returned. But, based upon Montoya’s earlier statements, the union appears incentivized to prevent this Charter Amendment from going before voters in 2020.
In fact, Mission Local has learned that the POA was asked on June 10 to submit its queries and proposals about the potential Charter Amendment in writing. As of June 19, it does not appear that document has been received by the city.
Should either Yee or the POA feel the meet-and-confer process has run its course, an impasse can be declared. This leads to an involved process potentially requiring mediation or arbitration — neither of which is conducive to a July 21 legislative deadline.
If Yee deigns to submit the Charter Amendment to the voters without reaching a compromise with the POA, the city could potentially be sued to keep it off the ballot — or, failing that, to undo it after an election.
Asked for comment, Yee replied “We’ll keep going forward with the process and do our best to reach an agreement.”
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