could sheriffs soon patrol SFO?
Photo by rulenumberone2 via Flickr Commons.

San Francisco Sheriff’s deputies at SFO? 

For Ken Lomba, the president of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Deputy’s Association, it makes a hell of a lot of sense. 

So much sense that he sent an open letter to Mayor London Breed on Thursday, asking her to replace the SFPD officers at the San Francisco International Airport with Sheriff’s Deputies. He argued that they would be cheaper, and a better fit for the job. 

Lomba cited a July 2 Budget and Legislative Analyst report saying the city would save $5 million annually by replacing SFPD officers with Sheriff’s Deputies at the airport. The latter are paid less than SFPD officers, according to the report, and the SFPD would reap a one-time savings of $31.2 million by transferring its 226 SFO officers into San Francisco and postponing the hiring of new officers.

“We would urge you to explore those significant financial benefits associated with this proposal,” Lomba wrote to Breed. 

Lomba argued further that SFPD officers are better suited to patrol city streets, not SFO. (Sheriff’s deputies oversee city-owned buildings like City Hall, the jails, and General Hospital — but perhaps not the hospital for much longer.) 

“Access to these additional [SFPD] officers for quality investigation of the significant crimes within San Francisco, would protect residents and serve as a fiscal savings in the overall budget,” Lomba said. “Foot patrols and a larger SFPD presence in areas that attract tourists would provide for a safer experience for the citizens and visitors in San Francisco.” 

Separately, Lomba referred to a poll commissioned by the union that found 68 percent of 400 likely San Francisco voters supported deputies replacing SFPD officers.  

But, of course, there’s a hitch. For starters, the Sheriff’s Department is not actively behind the plan. 

“The Sheriff’s Office has not engaged in any discussions with the Mayor or the Board of Supervisors to transfer authority and responsibility for SFO law enforcement services,” said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Nancy Crowley. “Changes to SFO jurisdiction would require significant planning and coordinated strategy over several years to ensure a successful transition. Our municipal partners have not requested this at this time.” 

SFPD spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak said in an email: “We are not involved in any discussions to transfer the responsibility for San Francisco International Airport’s law enforcement services from the San Francisco Police to the San Francisco Sheriff. Any such change would require significant thought, planning and coordination.”  

He added that the 2021 fiscal year budget for the Airport Bureau is $89,997,277.

And the mayor’s office did not comment, so it’s unclear if Breed has read or considered the letter.  

But Lomba’s proposal does have some support. In a searing lecture to SFPD Chief Bill Scott during an Aug. 20 Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing, Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer questioned the need for the SFPD’s large presence at the airport — especially as San Francisco shares jurisdiction with the San Mateo Sheriff’s Department, which performs investigations at the airport. 

“Do we really need a chief out there? Do we really need a deputy chief? Do you really need an assistant chief? Do we really need a commander?” she continued, referring to a band of well-paid higher-ups overseeing the SFPD’s airport operations.

Fewer noted as well that the airport bureau only employs experienced, tenured SFPD officers, not fresh recruits. “So why wouldn’t we have them on the streets of San Francisco,” Fewer said, “instead of at an empty airport where they really aren’t even making that many arrests?” 

Fewer reiterated her points in a statement to Mission Local on Thursday, noting also that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department patrols Oakland’s airport. She added: “It would be a responsible next step to examine the use of Sheriff deputies and look at reducing the amount of SFPD officers and command staff at the Airport.”

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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. So Fewer wants More Arrests at the airport to justify a SFPD presence? I guess she doesn’t get the prevention aspect.
      Look at what the airport represents as a target and understand why a trained and nuanced police presence is necessary, not jailers who only deal with incarcerated individuals.
      Look at the Sheriffs record of dealing with people at the only place to compare with SFO- the SFGH Hospital. Not a great track record of service there.

  1. Lomba conveniently leaves out the fact that it’s not the lack of officers that affects SF but the political policies. 200 more officers being in SF only means 200 more people for the homeless, the drug dealers, and the criminals to ignore. They already know nothing substantial can be done to them.

  2. The SFPD Officers at the Airport are paid for by the Airlines, so there would be no savings to the City’s General Fund. Also, there are not 226 Sworn SFPD Officers at SFO, there are about 130 and an additional 100 PSAs. There is no room in the City for the PSAs, so they would be laid off. And the Officers would not only fill the vacancies in the City, but would overstaff the City. So either new Officers would get laid off or they would have to increase the new budget to pay for the SFO Officers to return to the City.

    Also, the Sheriff’s Dept would have to hire and train 130 Deputies to cover the Deputies for the Airport. I know, they are closing Jails, so there should be plenty of Deputies, but really there are not, thats why some Deputies have to work 3000 additional hours a year to cover the vast shortage of Deputies.

  3. No no and no.
    Let’s get all Government out of the airport, keep it private.
    I’d be just fine if they were non Union

  4. Cops and especially the POA will fight this proposal tooth and nail. The airport is a cash cow with tons of overtime plus it’s a great place to hide if you’re lazy or just afraid to do police work. More analogous to being mall security than to being real cops.