File photo by Lola M. Chavez

As members of the Board of Supervisors and the police chief today discussed the SFPD budget during a hearing at the Budget Committee, it soon grew clear that our elected and appointed officials’ definition of “defunding” the police greatly differs from the hundreds of progressive activists queued up to speak at public comment. 

The supervisors held their third meeting on Wednesday to identify possible cuts to the police department’s roughly $700 million budget by August, some of which may later be redirected to Black communities per the mayor’s order. Hiring freezes, changes to airport police support, and increased civilianizing were a few areas that might facilitate the $23 million budget cut the mayor demanded earlier this year. 

“There is obviously heightened interest this year, given the moment we are in,” Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said. “This moment has pushed the public conversation about police departments, police unions, the role of policing, and the desire to explore alternative models of public safety.”

But many of these topics did not align with the motives of activists from the Democratic Socialists of America, who organized a cavalcade of public commenters that as of 9: 30 p.m., was still going strong after 5 hours. They had been pushing for complete demilitarization and cuts to police field operations, language that did not explicitly find its way into suggested budget cut policies

“It feels like you’re not listening to us,” was a popular refrain these activists repeated. 

Police Chief Bill Scott also presented and explained the police budget spanning back 10 years, with most of the growth due to personnel costs. He emphasized the need to hire and retain officers. As of June 2020, the Police Department reported 2,290 sworn staff which is a 20 percent increase from a decade ago. Fifty-four more police are slated to be added by June 2021 as recruits graduate from training academies. 

While he confirmed that the SFPD was working to follow the mayor’s recommendation to cut the budget by at least 10 percent, Scott repeatedly stated that the police may not be able to continue reforms recommended by the Department of Justice in 2016 without sufficient money.  

“If there is a change in [policing in] the future, it can really only be done with proper infrastructure and oversight,” Scott said. “We all agree we want our communities to be safe.”

“Reform doesn’t work,” numerous callers said. “Defund. Disarm. Black Lives Matter.”

Read: Racial bias statistics remain disturbing

One policy suggestion that most parties at the meeting seemed to agree with was upping the number of civilianized police employees.  Civilianized workers essentially replace a beat officer position — at a fraction of the cost and without a badge, gun, or qualified immunity. 

Out of the 50 civilianized positions recommended by the Board of Supervisors over the last three years, the department has only hired 23; Scott attributed the backlog to the Department of Human Resources

While 20 more are being interviewed, Supervisor Hillary Ronen was not pleased with the progress. 

“It’s infuriating to me,” Ronen said. “This is one of the city’s top priority policies.” 

Click on chart for a full-sized version

The SFO police division was also put under the spotlight at Wednesday’s meeting — a division that scooped up $91 million last fiscal year. As of June 2020, 174 officers worked for the airport.

Menard’s analysis estimates that about $5 million a year could be saved if the airport relied on Sheriff’s deputies instead of San Francisco police officers, who are paid more. It is common for other airports like Oakland International Airport to use the Sheriff’s deputies. 

SFO Director Ivar Satero said that drawing money from the airport division would be detrimental to air travelers’ safety. Already some officers have been suspended from this division considering the decreased use of air travel during coronavirus. 

Fewer countered that she does not think it’s necessary for the airport to have such a sizable command staff, including a designated Deputy Chief. She noted that those officers could be better equipped to serve at neighborhood stations — and count toward the City Charter-mandated staffing minimum of 1,971 sworn officers.

Other programs proposed for elimination are units consisting of officers who exclusively use horses or motorcycles. 

Read: Taking too long: What an SFPD policy for Deaf people says about police reform

Supervisor Dean Preston also brought up the gang task force, which he said focuses on black and brown individuals more than others. This group receives $3.6 million. 

“The gang task force is past its time. We should be looking to reduce that,” Preston said. 

As Fewer ended the portion of the hearing involving elected and appointed officials, she asked the clerk how many public commenters were on the line. There were 130. 

Kaylah Williams, an organizer with the local branch Democratic Socialists of America, and the founder of the AfroSocialist and Socialists of Color Caucus, helped line up hours of public comment at a recent board meeting in which mayoral nominees for the Police Commission being vetted. Today, she had hoped to make a statement by breaking city records for the lengthiest public comment sessions. 

Other groups that shook the tree include the Coalition on Homelessness, the Budged Justice Coalition, Senior Disability Action, Causa Justa, No New Jails SF, NoJusticeNoPeace, the Do No Harm Coalition, Defund SFPD Now, and Coleman Advocates.

Read more about some impassioned public commenters here.

A statement may well be made, but breaking a record figures to be a challenge; due to the vast number of anticipated callers, Fewer stated that public speakers would be allowed only one minute to say their piece, not the customary two. 

The ongoing parade of speakers continues, with many urging the defunding of the police, reinvesting this money into community violence prevention and Black communities, increasing school funding, and relying on less police to respond to civilian issues. 

These are all ideas the supervisors and even Scott could get behind — but paying for it is a different matter.

“We can all say pretty things about San Francisco,” one of the many callers said. “But our values are in our budget.”

Update: The meeting finally wrapped up at 12:30 a.m., clocking in at 8 hours of public comment. 

Read more about our coverage of police reform here.

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Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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24 Comments

  1. Stupid. The newer generations are full of stupid, short-sighted, selfish people, each one of whom would dial up 911 if they were robbed or assaulted.

    1. defunding police budget doesn’t mean there’s no one to call during an emergency, stupid

    2. Mike, I’ve been calling 911 (sfpd) for various times an unsafe situation was happening over the years. Here‘s the top 3 things that happened:
      1. Didn’t show up (most popular)
      2. Showed up, but decided to leave without doing anything
      3. Showed up but explained to me that they won’t be doing anything (this was when a homeless guy followed me home and then sat outside my apartment for 6 hours watching my window and holding a baseball bat) “it’s not illegal to hold a baseball bat, and no we aren’t going to go talk to him either”.

      The range of these experiences are from 2010ish to 2018 (stopped calling police after that since its useless) so no, you don’t get to blame our current DA either.

      Defund the police? Nothing of value is lost

      1. What did you wan the cops to do?

        Take him to jail? for what ? They already told you that holding a bat is not illegal.

        You write on this board to look for sympathy and to bolster your argument about de-funding police. what you have displayed is that you have no issue with the police stopping someone just because the person is homeless and wandering around.

        what you failed to mention was the race of the person. Did you call the police because he was a home less black man ? hispanic?

        Maybe had you reported an actual crime, the police could have done something, legally.

        you are the type to call 911 and if the cops did go and talk/detain him, your cell phone would be out and you would be waiting for that perfect video of the cops using force. I hear TMZ pays big bucks for such videos

        1. DOn’t be obtuse, you know exactly what he wanted the cops to do, move the guy with the bat along –the way they do to hundred of people in SF every day. Stalking and threatening someone IS illegal, even if your vaunted Police Force doesn’t see the crime.

          A cops job is to take statements, establish facts, and take a reasonable action. SF cops don’t do that, mostly they blow off the obvious crime. I had a man charge into my house, I had to force him out. I followed the guy home called the cops, and because he didn’t answer the door they did NOTHING because exercising a search warrant and all the paperwork would have been too much trouble. If i’d been able to call a health care professional or a social worker they might have actually recognized a decompensating psychotic episode and pulled in some resources to help the guy out. Instead he murdered a friend 3 days later on his own porch and has been locked up ever since.

          You are literally doing nothing but trolling EgGman because you have no actual argument to respond to the fact that 911 hardly ever works, the cops don’t want to actually do their job, and they are barely qualified to do 90% of the work they are asked to do.

    3. man, have you ever called 911? I have a few times. They either don’t show up or they show hours later. I live about 5 blocks from the North Beach police station.

  2. Thanks for reporting on this! One note – Noticed the callers are called “progressive activists” as opposed to SF citizens. I heard many people talk about living and working in the city ( esp schoolteachers) last night and I think it’s important to highlight that we are just concerned residents like everyone else.

  3. When the “progressive” supervisors are confronted with an organized, mobilized community demanding structural change, they balk.

    When “progressive” supervisors are confronted with an organized FUNDED set of city funded nonprofits demanding more city funding, they hup to.

    San Francisco is all pay to play. You do not exist to policymakers unless you are paying to play.

    Every time that progressive electeds knife their mobilized, organized base in the back, they create a hundred new Marcos.

  4. Hopefully the board of supervisors realize there are a large number of SF residents who do not agree with the progressive agenda. In particular people with families and business owners (tax payers). These folks, of all colors but usually a bit older and wiser, are not protesting much nor are they in major attendance in these meetings. If the city government goes along with de-funding the police a couple things will happen. One is the major tax payers will leave to seek a more civilized place to be, and the city’s revenues will plummet. There will also be a spike in legal and illegal ownership of firearms and associated violence due to lost trust in the city’s ability to provide security. Instead of police there will be private guards and vigilantes who do not have the same restrictions on use of force as police do.

    1. Charles, this movement includes people from all walks of life – including older retirees. I am somewhat young (35) but I bet I pay way more in taxes than you do. Do you know what kind of property tax you get slapped with when your house is valued at today’s market rate? You haven’t done your research, because we’re just asking to replace expensive, ineffective police with more qualified people from other departments. Police are the highest paid city employees and even they agree that they are asked to do too much. They are incredibly expensive and highly ineffective. Let’s fund public schools, public housing, public health, and social services instead. This is what will reduce crime in the city. And if I am raped, I would report the incident to a trained counselor instead of the SFPD, who btw, only clear 18% of rape cases.

  5. “It feels like you’re not listening to us,” was a popular refrain these activists repeated. ” Only people with well below average intelligence would listen to socialists, Democratic or not.

  6. One question – how can civilian workers who replace a beat officer position possibly be “at a fraction of the cost”? You are ultimately replacing one city worker with another – unless that fraction is 9/10 I don’t see how that could work.

    Interesting idea out of Berkeley today that cops can’t pull people over for traffic violations; curious to see if that idea gets picked up here.

    1. Dan — 

      Off the top of my head, not only do “miscellaneous” workers earn far less than police in salary, they earn a smaller percentage of their highest incomes as pension (75 percent max vs. 90 percent max) and at a later age (65 vs. 55).

      Best,

      JE

      1. Ah – I didn’t think about the pension piece at all which adds a ton. Didn’t realize the salary structures were different either – I knew one person who moved from another City job to the police dept. and took their salary with them, so I assumed they were generally pegged. Will be interesting to see how that shakes out as they create / recruit for these positions. Thanks.

    2. Exactly, and city employee gets 100k plus lifetime pension. Cops make 140k with tenure and lots of overtime.

      What they need is ongoing training. Like jocko says in this link. Which means more money, with strings.

  7. I was one of those who waited countless hours to give public comment. Here is what I said.

    There is a growing recognition of why we should get police out of the job of social work. We need to create non police responders similar to the C.A.H.O.O.T.S. program (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) in Eugene Oregon.

    This involves dispatching a two person team with one having medical training and the other trained as a crisis responder. This team can also transport a person to a clinic, hospital or social services. They can be dispatched directly by calls to 911 or the non-emergency police number when someone reports a mental health incident or a homeless issues.

    The SFPD Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Mental Health Working Group I am part of supports this approach. Police don’t want to do social work.

    For all calls involving mental health or homelessness, there is a better way.

    David Elliott Lewis, Ph.D.
    San Francisco

  8. With 80,000 criminals being released watch the crime sky rocket in the city and throughout the entire state of California. Defunding the police is just unrealistic. This city is not going to become safe it is going to get worse. Many people that I knew growing up have left California and have headed over to Texas, Washington or Canada. This state is just headed for a disaster. Anyone who does not see this or understands what we are headed towards is blind. We have laws for a reason because some people will never treat others with any kind of respect of dignity, they will violate and harm others to their expense. This is the type of world we are living in and sadly some people are evil in the actions they commit without having any empathy at all. I am planning to leave this state as well. Many predictions are coming into the surface about this and it doesn’t sound like a good outcome. Releasing 80,000 criminals over the coronavirus and its not even jail they are coming out of, but prison, Let that sink in.

  9. Just a little correction to your article. All City Employees have qualified immunity, not just Police Officers. Technically, the law states that Public Officals have qualified immunity, which includes elected officials.

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