Update 8/21/20: The Budget and Appropriations Committee has agreed to cut roughly $26 million from SFPD’s proposed two-year budget, on top of the $35 million in cuts Breed proposed over the next two fiscal years. That includes cuts to three upcoming academy classes, which would have brought as many as 150 new officers to the police force, as well as cuts to the SFPD’s overtime budget and unutilized body-worn camera costs.
The supes opted ultimately not to cut horse-mounted officers and Healthy Streets Operations Center officers. The total cuts originally amounted to $29 million, but the supes decided to grant the SFPD $3 million to civilianize positions performed right now by sworn officers. Controller Ben Rosenfield, who total the committees proposed cuts, said the number was a ballpark estimate, and a more exact figure will be produced at a later date.
The future of the San Francisco Police Department began to take shape Thursday as the Budget and Appropriations Committee signaled a strong appetite to move beyond Mayor London Breed’s July proposal to cut roughly $35 million from the SFPD over the next two years.
“We can’t just give lip service to this time and this movement,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen — whose home was this week visited by demonstrators calling for deep cuts to the SFPD budget. Ronen called the mayor’s proposed 2.6 percent reduction of the police budget “a slap in the face.”
Amid a national re-examination of American law enforcement, calls to “defund the police” have resounded on the streets, and on Thursday that sentiment was reflected in city legislators’ scrutiny of the San Francisco Police Department’s budget ask of $674 million dollars moving into fiscal years 2020-2021 and $676 million the following cycle.
(If compared to the proposed budget of 2019 — roughly $739 million — the mayor’s cuts represent an 8.7 percent reduction in the police budget.)
On top of the mayor’s reductions — much of them stemming from slashing unfilled positions — the Budget and Legislative Analyst recommended further cuts to the department’s upcoming spring academy class, which would bring 50 more police officers onto the force and cost $7.9 million. The budget analyst also recommended cutting some $1.8 million from unutilized material costs and body-worn camera resources.
But the supervisors said cuts needed to go further.
Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who chairs the committee, proposed eliminating all four upcoming SFPD academy classes until spring 2022, which would eliminate 200 new officers from being added to the police force and result in some $24 million in savings, according to a Controller’s analysis.
Fewer also questioned whether the SFPD needs such a heavy presence at the airport, why the SFPD requires excesses of $20 million in its overtime budget, and why the department has not put civilian employees in more positions.
“If there were things that we can do within our department to make it more efficient and more effective and without adding more police officers,” Fewer said, “we can actually use the police officers that we have in a much more efficient and effective way.”
While Chief Bill Scott has been open to some budget cuts, he was resistant to canceling academy classes, saying it would ultimately shrink the police force over time and could lead to a rise in violent crime and property crime. The chief said the city is enjoying its lowest violent crime rates in years, in part because of the department’s “accelerated hiring” of officers.
“That’s why we are advocating and asking this board to please reconsider reducing the size of this police department,” Scott said.
At the very least, he said, “keep our department’s staff at the current level.” The SFPD’s budget proposal asks for just north of 1,800 for the upcoming fiscal year.
But Fewer argued that a choice between fewer officers and compromised public safety is a “false choice.”
“I actually think we can do something very different,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be always funding police. As I said, it can be funding strategies actually to keep people safer.”
The supervisors examined more areas where cuts could be made.
Ronen questioned why the SFPD still has officers patrolling on horses — six officers who use nine horses, according to the chief. While the chief said the horse-mounted cops were effective in patrolling parks and were good for “visibility” and community engagement, Ronen said she thought they were unnecessary.
Moreover, she proposed the reduction of police officers involved in the Healthy Streets Operations Center who respond to homelessness and mental health calls. With the implementation of Mental Health SF, she said “crisis response teams” are being formed to respond to those calls and are more appropriate. She told Scott it would be best to get “police out of the business of responding to homeless people for being homeless.”
Ronen also urged the chief to start thinking about a viable plan to honor the will of the San Francisco Board of Education to reduce the presence of police officers at public schools, and recommended coming up with a process to reimagine the SFPD’s presence within San Francisco’s low-income housing projects.
Although she said she respects many police officers, Ronen noted that “it’s not about the individuals that we respect and like and who do their job well.”
The proposed slashing of funds and the repurposing of the police department is rather, “about the system that is rotten to its core,” she said.
Many of the supervisors talked about ridding the department of “bad cops.”
“If there are people who shouldn’t be police officers,” the city should have “the ability to get rid of them more easily,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.
But major disciplinary actions against police officers — especially terminations — are rare. Although the chief cannot unilaterally fire a police officer, he can make such a recommendation to the Police Commission. The Department of Police Accountability can also make major disciplinary recommendations. Both rarely do so.
When the Department of Police Accountability did recommend firing the officer who shot and killed Jessica Williams, Scott recommended no discipline at all. The DPA, the chief, and the commission ultimately agreed on suspending the officer for 45 days.
“We can all rise to the occasion and do something different and better,” Ronen said, “and we’re not going to be able to do it in one year.”