In March 2020, an independent study on police staffing levels found that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) needed to hire 330 officers to meet the demand for service at that time. Since then, the need for officers has grown to nearly 500, according to Police Chief Bill Scott.
These numbers have real-world consequences. We cannot meet the demand for service, implement necessary criminal justice reforms, or protect our most vulnerable residents without adequate police staffing, and the public suffers as a result. For example, over the last two years, burglaries have increased by approximately 40 percent in San Francisco, and some neighborhoods have seen increases as high as 78 percent.
Shoplifting in San Francisco is also out of control. CVS has more than 150 locations in the Bay Area, and their 12 San Francisco stores account for more than 40 percent of the region’s total losses from shoplifting. Similarly, Walgreens reported that their local stores had four times the theft, 35 times the spending on guard services, and 20 times the number of workplace threats as their stores in other cities — including New York and Chicago.
All of this is unacceptable. Our merchants and residents have a right to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods. We have to invest in proven practices that deter and prevent crime, and that begins with ensuring we have a fully staffed and well-trained police force.
CURRENT STAFFING LEVELS ARE LIMITING SERVICE
It’s no secret that the SFPD has struggled to recruit and retain sworn officers. A generation of experienced officers are in the process of retiring, and we have not been able to recruit enough to replace those who leave.
Police staffing in San Francisco lags behind our peer cities. New York has 42 officers for every 10,000 residents, Chicago has 44, Washington, D.C., has 61, and San Francisco only has 22. Our existing force is stretched far too thin. With almost 80 percent of officer time committed to responding to emergency 911 calls, the SFPD cannot properly staff crime prevention efforts.
Preventative measures, like foot beat patrols, are essential to establishing visibility, building community relations, and deterring crime. Without an adequately staffed police force, preventative measures go out the door while police are focused on prioritizing urgent calls for service.
Emergency calls for service have increased since the beginning of last year. The most dangerous incidents, Priority A calls, increased by 12 percent. More troubling is that response times also have slowed, which means San Franciscans who called 911 are waiting longer for help to arrive.
Unfortunately, this trend didn’t begin today. Over the last six years, San Francisco’s monthly Priority A calls have increased by 33 percent, while police response times have decreased by 25 percent. Without meaningful investment in staffing, this trend will continue.
That is why I voted to fund two new police academy classes in the budget and cosponsored the mayor’s recent supplemental budget appropriation for police overtime. These two initiatives are small but important steps to mitigate the current staff shortages.
San Francisco isn’t alone when it comes to staffing challenges. Oakland is also in crisis. Their city council recently passed legislation authorizing two more academy classes, and is also considering expanding incentive pay. San Francisco needs to follow suit or we will fall further behind.
REFORMS TAKE INVESTMENT
In 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the SFPD entered into an agreement to enhance police accountability, eliminate bias, expand community engagement, minimize use of force, and diversify department staff.
As part of that agreement, the DOJ issued 272 recommendations, and the SFPD has worked incredibly hard to implement more than 90 percent of these measures to date. This is a significant achievement, and San Francisco is the only city of its size to voluntarily implement reforms of this magnitude. However, systemic change requires serious investment, and the SFPD will not be able to sustain this progress without ongoing support.
A FULLY STAFFED POLICE FORCE
In advance of the Board of Supervisors annual budget deliberations, I called for a hearing on the police staffing crisis. On April 14 at 10 a.m., the SFPD will present on how dire their situation has become to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee.
For more than two years, we’ve known that our patrol staffing levels were severely inadequate, and that needs to change. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the conditions in our city or ignore the thousands of San Franciscans who call 911 in crisis every single day.
I remain committed to ensuring our public safety agencies are staffed and prepared for the challenges of the 21st century. San Franciscans deserve nothing less.