The San Francisco Police Commission unanimously rejected the police department’s budget proposal on Wednesday night, which would have laid off 167 police officers, cut technology to aid reform efforts, and reduced the department’s overtime funds.
But the commission’s vote against moving the budget forward was a largely symbolic action that will signal to Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors that the commission was unhappy with the proposal as currently drafted.
In other words, the mayor and the supes will receive the budget, no matter what, with a somewhat negative recommendation from the commissioners.
It seemed everyone agreed that such dramatic reductions to the police budget were unacceptable, and at least needed deeper consideration. In urging the Police Commission to reject the budget, Chief Bill Scott repeatedly called the cuts “devastating.”
“I am not supportive of these cuts,” Scott said of his own budget proposal — one he is being forced to make. “They will be devastating to this department.”
Under the department’s current proposal, the police budget would be reduced by $64.9 million in fiscal year 2022, which begins in July, 2021. That includes a mandate from Mayor London Breed to cut the department’s budget by $37 million to shore up a gaping budget deficit wrought by the pandemic.
As the city faces a $653 million deficit in the coming two fiscal years, Breed in December directed every city department to propose 7.5 percent slashes to their budgets and plan for 2.5 percent more in cuts in case economic conditions worsen.
Nevertheless, Scott said that much of the mayor’s mandatory reductions would mean cuts to existing police officers and civilian staff — cuts he successfully fought off last summer amid growing calls to “defund the police” in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
This year, however, the coronavirus may succeed where activists fell short.
“We cut everything we can cut,” Scott said, referring to the last budget cycle, in which the overtime pot was diminished and vacant positions and academy classes were slashed. All that is left, he said, are cuts to police officers, a move that could have consequences both to public safety and the diversity of his police department, he said.
The chief explained that a majority of those exposed to layoffs are officers of color who joined the department in recent years as the SFPD reformed its hiring and recruiting policies.
Of the 167 police officers closest to the chopping block, 50 are Latino, 47 are Asian, 15 are Black, three are Filipino and six are “other” — totaling 121. Forty-six are white. If the economic situation worsens, another 56 officers could be laid off, although that group’s ethnic makeup is unclear.
The chief added that the budget reductions would also mean less money for technology that helps the department complete the 272 Department of Justice recommendations, such as updating the department’s “early intervention system.” The system is designed to flag and intervene with problematic police officers before their misconduct gets worse — and the system the SFPD is currently using is obsolete.
He said the department will be finished with more than 90 percent of the reforms in the coming months.
Moreover, the chief said that response times to crime would get longer with fewer officers, especially as the city has seen an increase in gun violence and burglaries this year. He pointed to a slide that showed that shootings are up 266 percent so far this year, compared to last year.
“It’s self-explanatory,” he said, “we don’t want gun violence to go in the direction that it’s going.”
Yet in terms of staffing, some commissioners appeared to broadly embrace reductions in staff as the department “reimagines” how it responds to non-violent calls, and saw Scott’s warnings about escalating crime as alarmism.
“We’re in a very large state of transition, and I think that transition is ultimately going to be hard for certain aspects of the police department,” said Commissioner John Hamasaki. “We’ve all accepted that police should not respond to … non-criminal calls.”
The chief argued that his department supports the vision of a police force that doesn’t respond to every single call. “But that has not happened yet — that’s a transition that’s going to take some time,” he said. “Meanwhile, the police department still gets calls.”
In the end, however, the chief and the commissioners agreed: They were all unhappy with the proposal for one reason or another — whether for its dramatic cuts, its lack of detail, or its impediments to the reform effort. And the commissioners voted 4-0 against moving it forward.
It will nonetheless go to the Mayor’s Office, because the Police Commission’s role in the process is merely advisory and it does not have the unilateral power to implement big changes.
Following the vote, Commission President Malia Cohen told Mission Local that, after the budget proposal is fine-tuned by the Mayor’s Office, it will be presented to the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, a body she once helmed as a supervisor.
Speaking from experience, Cohen said, “This is only the beginning of a long and painful process.”