SFPD patrol car
Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

The police chief, president of the police union, and the president of the Black officers association spoke out Wednesday about low morale within the department, arguing that internal and external factors are contributing to resignations and poor performance. 

In her presentation before the Police Commission, Police Officers Association president Lt. Tracy McCray said the union conducted a poll in recent weeks, asking officers whether they planned to leave the department within the next year or move to another law enforcement agency. 

“Over 54 percent said that they were planning to leave,” McCray said. “That’s a very daunting number, because that tells me roughly 400 people could leave this department.” 

POA president Lt. Tracy McCray addressed the Police Commission on Wednesday night.

Chief Bill Scott pointed to the morale issue as a driving factor in increasing resignations and retirements: In his presentation, he shared results of a survey of 194 police departments between April, 2020, and April, 2021, showing resignations were up by 18 percent and retirements by 45 percent. 

“[Under]staffing leads to burnout, leads to morale issues, leads to increased overtime usage and things like that,” Scott said. “Less sleep, exhaustion and all those things impact morale.” 

Retirements are also high, as many officers reach their 30-year point and max out their pensions, as the SFPD has pointed out in the past. 

In April, SFPD project manager Celeste Berg said the trend in resignations was observed nationally, as “everyone that was hired in the mid-’90s is reaching retirement age. And so law-enforcement agencies across the country are experiencing a sort of ‘aging out’ of their workforce.” 

Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone said that hiring and retention should be a focus of the department, separate from any morale issue. 

“I think there is a perception sometimes that solving the morale question will also solve the hiring and retention problem,” Carter-Oberstone said. “I do think we need to be a little bit careful about that, just because we are in an economic environment where it’s hard for everyone to hire, around all sectors.”

Officers for Justice president Yulanda Williams, an acting captain, also presented before the commission on Wednesday. She said nepotism and cronyism were launching less-skilled members to command-level positions, and discouraging other officers, particularly ones of color. 

“We have been systematically disrespected far too long by this department.”  

Yulanda williams

“The last round of promotions in the command staff failed to include a Black man or woman.” Williams said, adding that only one Black member had been promoted to the command staff within the past five years. 

Slide from Chief Bill Scott’s presentation on police morale on June 8, 2022.

SFPD data also shows that Black officers may not be graduating from the police academy at the rate they are entering. In 2020, while 15 percent of the academy recruits were Black, only five percent of the graduating class was. 

Not only are minorities not being hired or promoted, Williams said, but even those eligible to take promotional exams aren’t compelled to do so. She added that discipline and oversight may be administered inconsistently or unfairly within the SFPD. Scott’s findings from officer surveys affirmed this sentiment.  

“We have been systematically disrespected far too long by this department,” Williams said.  

Scott also acknowledged the morale issue isn’t a new one; he said one Stanford survey made this finding two years ago with members of the police force. 

In addition to internal issues like staffing, need for resources, and tensions between the command staff and line officers, Scott outlined several external factors that contribute to low morale. These included “one-sided, biased” reporting by the media, “unfair prosecutions” of officers, and “vitriolic sociopolitical” perceptions of policing. 

Scott also said officers complained of unclear policies and unrealistic expectations; the Police Commission is responsible for setting department policy. 

Beyond wellness and behavioral health efforts by the department, Scott suggested that newer patrol cars and renovated buildings could help officers know that the SFPD cares about them. 

When it came to public perceptions of policing, however, Carter-Oberstone said that in order to rebuild trust with the community, “the department has to demonstrate that it’s learned from these issues, and that it’s going to do better.” 

The SFPD’s arrest rate is typically low — 8.1 percent in 2021 — and clearances (rates of charging suspects) dropped further in many categories this year. Seven percent of rapes, six percent of motor vehicle thefts, and fewer than 10 percent of burglaries have been cleared in 2022. 

And the department’s track record in arresting and using force against people of color still points to extreme racial bias: Black people are 12 times as likely to have force used on them, and 10 times as likely to be searched as whites.  

Such a direct commitment to rebuilding trust wasn’t quite verbalized by the presenters. 

“Yes, we’ve had scandals, no one’s running away from that. But we’ve also lost very young, capable officers who were killed in the line of duty. So the risk and the rewards of this profession, unfortunately, these things happen,” McCray said at the start of her presentation. 

The last SFPD officer killed in the line of duty, according to the POA, was Bryan Tuvera in 2006. 

Scott said more accountability and “civil conversations” on both sides would help build the trust. 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. Stop complaining and get involved. Become a reserve officer and help your community. Put your own life on the line. Less keyboard warriors.

  2. No wonder, you risk your livelihood doing this job. Patriarchal honor culture will soon rule over who lives and dies in SF.

  3. Good ridance. Maybe the SFPD can hire professionals for a change. People interested in more than their pensions and better trained. Trained at all for anything other than arrogance and indifference would be a revelation.

  4. SFPD is truly short staffed. There are 10 stations and multiple investigative bureaus and SFO officers. If the department is down 300-400 officers that would mean approximately 30 officers down per station. Three shifts per day per station then each station is down 10 officers per shift not counting those who call in sick each day. That is why people are not getting quick responses and also why arrests are statistically down because less officers to make arrests. Need to fix this. Options –
    The Sheriff’s dept is in charge of the jails, courts and hospitals. If there are now less persons in jail than ever before, then what are the deputies doing. Perhaps the sheriff’s deputies could be dispatched to calls and go on street patrol to fill in gaps created by the SFPD shortage. They should be available to lend an assist especially if jail population is down.
    Or, assign the sheriff’s office to do the SFO duties that SFPD does and transfer the airport cops up to the city for patrol and investigative duties. I estimate 60-100 SFPD officers are assigned to SFO, bring them to the city and assign them to stations.

  5. No one really wants to fix the problems because that involves more distinctive work than selling a convenient (black & white) narrative. (Pun not intended but relevant.) It’s easier to place blame than work thru the tedious and complex issues. It’s also a disassociative tactic to avoid any real involvement.

    In some scenarios this might be a welcome change. SF, like a like a lot of agencies, have entrenched attitudes and behaviors that need to change. Change is never easy and for law enforcement agencies it can be especially daunting. Newer officers are more likely to embrace change with less resistance. However, recruitment is way down because no one wants to do a job where they are constantly marginalized. The city isn’t currently willing to pay more to increase more hires so fewer and often less capable officers make it thru due to demand. The latter only serves to make the issue worse.

    On the flip side, SFPD is incredibly short-staffed already. This would be devastating for the citizens of SF. We are already seeing the fallout from disincentivizing property and petty crimes to the point of not being prosecutable. (Or failing to prosecute.)
    We take hundreds of calls per day for just these issues. And whether you agree with Boudin’s recall or not, mob mentality does not process nuance well.

    I listen to the multitude of citizens calling daily about the out of control street crime and homeless related problems. I listen to them demand action for a plethora of vehicle vandalism and thefts as well. Everyone wants the police to fix the problem but not arrest or “harass” people. Police are not social services, yet we continually ask law enforcement to handle social issues, which is like using a sledgehammer to push a nail.

    I work with many great officers daily who feel demoralized from multiple sources. And saying “they knew what they signed up for” is a deflection from our own failure to offer solutions to problems not rooted in crime. Many good officers are considering leaving simply because the risk and frustrations now far outweigh the benefit of pension and salary.

    After 23 years of watching leaders prioritize ideology over pragmatic leadership, I am not hopeful. As a dispatcher, I too am exhausted and contemplating leaving. I know my departure will exacerbate the staffing shortage at dispatch, but I can no longer live with dangerously low staffing with daily mandatory overtime, no support from the chain of command, and no end in sight.

  6. “Beyond wellness and behavioral health efforts by the department, Scott suggested that newer patrol cars and renovated buildings could help officers know that the SFPD cares about them. ” Wow. Just wow.

  7. When 40% of the city prefers career criminals to cops, it’s no wonder police morale is low.

    Hopefully we can move past the Chesa Boudin nightmare and two years of overreaction locally to police shootings in other parts of the country.

  8. I actually think high turnover and new blood might be a good thing. My interactions with police are minimal, but one example stands out — when my apartment was broken into and a laptop was stolen. It happened once in SF and once in NYC.

    In SF I literally could not get the police to show up. Ever. The police told me flat out they weren’t going to do anything. Eventually I had to go to the station to fill out a report (which I needed for insurance).

    In NY it’s not a high priority so it took them a few hours to show up, but they eventually showed up, took statements, dusted for finger prints, collected serial numbers, etc.

    1. Been that way in SF for decades. Our apartment was broken into in the early 80’s and a TV stolen. Cop at least came out, but had zero interest in doing anything.

  9. It sounds like rank and file are unhappy with top brass.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they are also unhappy with McCray. I read her musings and she’s not an adept PR rep for the force. She lacks tact and is going to have a hard time ever building a bridge between the public and the PD.

  10. Too many times have officers played with me having there associates call me snitch and child molester.Things that are not true! The time for games is over,things of this nature can make the
    nation fall. These mass collusion within the departments need to come to a halt. Wars are started behind bullshit like this. Honor your oaths.Represent the truth
    and treat ALL American citizens with respect, we are America!

  11. I don’t particularly get along with the police
    but I do respect them.
    To the African officers
    From the sherrifs depth,
    I salute you also!

  12. If ever one use common sense an give The United States respect an love an let’s do away with corruption bad politics The American people deserve better leader ship better directions ask what you can do for your country instead of someone else’s

    1. How can we do away with corruptions that’s happening at the highest level such as justice department, the feds..? There’s a long list of corrupt people in power. And those that try to fight it sometimes end up in jail, or blackballed so they can’t work anymore.

  13. If you live in SF long enough, you have probably called the police at some point. They usually don’t show up for a long time, if ever. When you want to report a property crime, they frequently discourage you from doing so, blaming the D.A. for not doing enough. When you do report the crime, they usually do nothing to find the person who did it.

    This isn’t a perception created by the media; it’s a story as common in SF as waiting for a bus that’s an hour late.

    1. Not true. The police will respond in mass to calls made in Black and Brown communities. I distinctly remembering having to call the police due to a fight happening in the flat below me. I lived in the Mission at the time. The operator asked if they were armed, which I had no way of knowing as I was not in the apartment with them. 5 squad cars showed up, guns drawn. No one was detained or arrested in this case. When I lived in the Marina district and there was a large fight that occurred at a local bar, 1 squad car arrived and simply waited out the fight and left. No guns were drawn.

      1. Me too. When I was attacked near Chinatown SFPD showed up within minutes and were totally respectful (during the weeks of Defund Police). They caught the perp while a witness and I were still reporting what happened. I thanked them, but the cops told me they were just doing their job. It’s not SFPD’s fault that the perp was never brought to trial (due to cognitive instability). When I lived in the Bayview, my neighbors (of all races) were pleased to see SFPD on patrol. I never had to call SFPD back then, but got to know the station (on Williams), captain and crew because they participated in our community events. Cops are individuals who wear a uniform and pledged to serve and protect–probably a more challenging job in San Francisco than neighboring cities.

        1. But did they file any charges? Did they take the time to file a report, or just go back to their warm squad car?

      2. They didn’t show up for hours, when there was a shooting in the Mission. Sometimes they show up, other times they don’t. That’s the way it is.

  14. The Police Commission itself is a factor in poor morale and the recruitment issue. The recent and pending DGO’s are almost unworkable. They discourage officers from working with cumbersome and time-consuming procedures. Certainly some procedures are cumbersome but necessary but the latest DGO has crossed the line. Persons considering a police career have likely scoped out SF and quickly written it off as an option due to anti-police BOS, commission and a variety of community groups. High cost of living and commute issue are also factors. Demographics have totally changed in SF – less lower middle class and middle class (a traditional pool of candidates). Money is less of a factor than the respect issue. The staffing issue was foreseeable at least two years ago but ignored by BOS, Police Commission and press.

  15. Acab, I should care why? Seriously. The only time I ever was optimistic was when Chesa was in office. Grew up hating cops on an existential level because they forced me to reconcile a cognitive dissonance that shouldn’t have been necessary in every sense. Fuck this shit. My funeral will be in one month, come thru.