Chief Bill Scott. Photo by Nikka Singh

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said he’s “open” to the defunding of his police department.

“I’m open to it,” Scott said Monday night during a panel hosted by the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club that also included Public Defender Mano Raju, District Attorney Chesa Boudin, and Sheriff Paul Miyamoto. 

“We’re at a time in policing in this country where the whole world is speaking to us and we need to hear what’s being said,” Scott said. “And what’s being said is, we have to change the way we do policing in this country. And I think for me, I’m open to that.” 

The chief, who oversees a department with a $674 million budget and a force of 2,300 officers, said if money is to be routed away from the police department, it needs to be done “thoughtfully.” 

“I know very tough decisions are going to be made in a hurry,” he said, adding that “it’s going to take a lot of thought” to “put the pieces together to allow us to actually do this successfully.”  

“Defunding the police” has become a common rallying cry as scores of people have taken to the streets in San Francisco and around the country in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton last Thursday said they would work to redirect funding away from the SFPD toward supporting “the African-American community.” 

The mayor and the supervisor provided few specifics, but Walton told Mission Local he wanted “at least $25 million,” redirected from the police department “if we are really trying to change some of the systemic issues oppressing black people here in San Francisco.” 

Scott added that he agreed a police response is not appropriate in all circumstances, such as mental health crises and quality-of-life calls like homelessness. This is something even the reactionary San Francisco Police Officers Association is on board with — though it ultimately stands against cuts to the department’s budget.

“To be blunt, there’s nothing we like about the proposal to cut the police budget,” wrote union president Tony Montoya in a letter to officers following Breed’s announcement, adding that the proposal would “divide the dedicated police officers from the communities we serve.” 

The panel on Monday touched on many law enforcement issues, especially as they related to the LGBTQ+ community. But all San Francisco’s so-called “justice partners” weighed in on — and seemed open to — reducing the role of policing in society. 

DA Boudin agreed with Scott, saying that sending armed police officers to certain situations is not the best use of resources and may not result in the best outcomes. 

“We know that when law enforcement responds to mental health crises, there’s a risk of people getting hurt,” Boudin said. “People who are mentally ill or in crisis often don’t respond to law enforcement orders the way that you or I might — and that leads to an increased chance of escalation, use of force.”

He cited a system called “Cahoots” in Eugene, Oregon, in which 911 dispatchers can decide to deploy clinicians — not police — for situations calling for crisis intervention. “That’s a model that is cost-effective and has proven to work in terms of minimizing the distraction that police officers face from doing their core function … and also minimizing the risk of violence.” 

Scott agreed. He said that the 911 system is geared perhaps too heavily toward first responders like police and firefighters. “I don’t know right now most cities you can call and get a mental health worker 24 hours a day to respond where a police officer wouldn’t have to,” he said. 

Sheriff Miyamoto also said he supports divestment from law enforcement — or, at least, a reduced role in the services it provides. “So when you hear that word, ‘defunding,’ you would expect us not to support it — but in reality, we understand … San Francisco and our community has been trying to do these things for a number of years,” he said. 

Indeed, most recently, the San Francisco Police Commission urged Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors to create a new system for homelessness that led with health professionals instead of police. 

Public Defender Mano Raju expanded on the idea of reducing law enforcement’s role, imagining a system where there are many different kinds of professionals to respond to calls — saying some situations are better suited for youth development experts, or a public health practitioner, or a mental health professional, or a conflict mediator. 

“I do think that there is a profound national conversation we’re having right now,” he said. “And I don’t purport to know all the answers, but I think the space is being opened up for us to figure out those answers — I think it’s incumbent upon us to begin doing that.” 

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. Homelessness is in large part due to wage not matching housing cost.
    The subprime loans really made it much worse.
    There’s so much that could be done to improve the quality of life for all.
    I think it’s important to first make sure everyone can get their basic needs met.

  2. As long as response times to reported crimes does not increase, then I have no objection to this.

    But if criminals are excited about this change that is very worrying.

  3. does defunding mean that mental health workers, lawyers, crisis intervention, soup kitchens and homeless shelters get kickdown from the govnment supplies of miltary handmedowns of weopons, aircraft, hightech suvailkence and other yesterdays news thats granted and given to the cops.

    Or is this just a token example from the system, because they have pure faith in the new tech, 5G contact tracing system, that survails everybody, that they really dont give a fuck about defundng the police, because they had the time to set up and install the new system of surveillance while you were quarantined like sheep?

    Everyones a little too happy immeadiatley, agreeing and jumping the gun about defunding. makes everybody, including the police admit looking down at their shoes saying “Ive been a very bad boy…”
    Fuck you, you Pigs. Fuck you Breed, you fucking eD Lee clone continuing to Sell Out the City that no one wants to live here anymore turning it into a golf course.

  4. I worked as a Police Officer in Chicago during the 1970s and 80s. At that time the city had a federally funded program in which a team of social workers were available 24/7 to respond to family disputes, mental health issues and other calls of a similar nature. Since any call can be dangerous and the social workers were unarmed, police were initially dispatched to all calls and once the scene was determined to be safe and secure, the officers could request the assistance of social workers if the citizens involved consented to further intervention. The officers remained on the scene to introduce the social workers and ensure that the situation remained peaceful. This was a rational solution, unlike proposals like de funding and replacing the police with unarmed social workers or other mental health professionals.

    1. Ray – Bringing common sense to a San Francisco liberal discussion is like bringing paintings to blind people. These libs are looking to build utopia when they can’t even provide adequate public toilets! Then the anarchists continue to show up in their all black uniforms to hide their identifies, armor themselves, and bring weapons. Their damages are evident, yet under reported.

      Maybe if everyone wasn’t getting paid over $100K, and the department heads and Mayor were not getting paid over $300K, there would be an extra billion available to direct to social services plus hiring more police. As far as being more effective, that’s a discussion the police ought to be having internally, and then sharing with the public. I can’t believe the police rank and file are not smart enough to figure out better ways to do their hobs.

      The police are badly needed. Unfortunately, they are too often not part of the community they serve. Their gear makes them look like storm troopers. There’s a lot going on here, and one size does not fit all. Most solutions are not simple, some are.

  5. The 60s and specifically the 68 riots were about LEGAL barriers. The next 2 decades were about removing and correcting the laws that prevented equality and enacting laws that prohibited discrimination.

    Now we have to work on the social implementation of those legalities. White people. at least those of us who took the gas and billy clubs then (like the Chicago Days of Rage) can be charged with being Naive to believe that mere laws would right things. As for the new generations (Genx and millennial) of racists, they are the children of those who fired on us. We must screen them better and NOT let them enter law enforcement.

  6. Very interested in the transfer of several tasks, i.e. mental illness calls, homelessness, cops out of schools but I am very concerned there is enough money remaining to pay outside instructors, for de-escalation, use of force tactics and other changes that may relate to reform and decreased violence. Anything educational that could push for a change in police culture should be affordable and not avoided because of money.

  7. If this is true then it will be “Penny wise and pound foolish.”

    The departments across this nation desperately need to be revamped not eliminated. The only ones who will benefit from this craziness will be those that prey on the people in all our communities.

    Not long ago the Mission was infested with individuals and groups that flooded our neighborhoods with drugs, poisoning our children. Gunfire echoed throughout the Mission and it was not the police doing the shooting.

    Too many of our residents and citizens were cut down for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Do we want to go back to that lunacy again?

    1. The cops are now the the City’s main response to homelessness, mental illness, prostitution, domestic violence and poverty. They complain about it occasionally, but they don’t complain at budget time. As for drugs, that’s a bit more complicated because as everyone knows, “drugs” does not mean one thing. During the 80s and 90s pot use was widespread in the Mission and elsewhere in the City. Middle aged white people smoked openly on the street and in Dolores Park. But who was busted and thrown in jail? Black and Latinx youth, primarily males. Time and time and time again — for many years pot arrests greatly outnumbered crack or heroin arrests (even though for a time, Valencia Gardens was a major transshipment point for heroin). Even after medical marijuana was legalized. The “War on Drugs” and the assinine “Broken Windows” strategy provided a “warrior” mentality, heavy weapons and removed legal barriers which facilitated an all-out assault on Black and Latinx males, and was formally, and nationally codified by Bill Clinton, enabled by Joe Biden, in 1994. We definitely do not want to return to that lunacy again.

      1. You mean the lunacy of a decades long crime wave that started in the late 60’s and engulfed our cities until the 90’s when get tough on crime policies, more cops, 3 strikes, broken windows tactics, mandatory sentences and an exhausted public finally turned the tide and brought our cities back from the brink? That “assinine” lunacy that dropped violent crime down from historic records to the levels we see today (well at least if you don’t live in Chicago, Baltimore, or St. Louis), and allowed our cities to finally recover from urban blight, the collapse of the tax base, and the flight of businesses and families that fled to the suburbs? How quickly we forget. “Defund the police” go ahead. In San Francisco de-policing is already well underway and you will be getting exactly what you want. See you in a couple of years. You broke it, you fix it.

    2. What makes you think the liberals of SF ever admit their mistakes?
      They seem to never learn.
      If something isn’t working, it’s always someone else’s fault, but oh wait – we run everything here – its all Ds all the time, so we’ll just say let’s try something totally new. It’s very much like the old Russian five year plans that never worked, but every five years they approved a new plan.

  8. The article discusses “defunding” as meaning using funds for mental health and addiction services rather than having the PD handle all that, but the only specific proposal coming from the BoS is to take some PD money and just sort of throw it in the general direction of the “black community” in a knee jerk reaction to current events. If the politicos are serious about doing this in a disciplined manner, it could actually be beneficial. But Walton’s free for all giveaway is just political grandstanding and vote-buying.

  9. Democrat led (inner) cities with Democrat police heads…now told they have done a disastrous job. Now asking for a do over with a lot of feel good initiatives, cause they ones they foolishly put in were not effective enough…asking for more and more money.
    More after school programs, counseling, vocational training…that’ll solve it

  10. We have mobile crisis in SF, it would be FANTASTIC if it was well funded so that it could operate 24/7. In SF it isn’t possible to get a mental health professional out at any time and you should be able to. We also have the homeless outreach team, the D. O. P. E. Project and a bunch of other groups that could use additional funding to be able to serve SF better.

  11. Campers,

    Well gall danged if that ain’t one hell of a line-up.

    In 40 years of watching this scene, the Left has never had better representation.

    Somewhere Joe Lynn and Jim Meko are smiling.

    Me too.

    I’m smiling at 3am at 14th and Valencia where the cops have a really
    fancy and shiny black limo pulled over across the street flashing
    bright flashlights all throughout.

    This shit’s all in what should be my wheelhouse but having been,
    ‘on-deck- for 40 years I think I might need a pinch-hitter.

    I’m thinking, Marc Salomon who’s just hitting his prime.

    Go Giants!


    1. I wonder what that shiny black limo did?

      Did the driver run a red light, Hit a pedestrian, side swiped a parked car, Violate the public health order ?

      So many things That the driver could have done. But the best part is that the cops could have just ignored it all

      Then you would be complaining that the cops don’t do anything.

      Go Giants