It’s time to turn a corner on our approach to public safety in San Francisco. For too long, we’ve failed to hold people accountable for the harm they have caused. I’ve been pushing for investments in public safety for years, and I’m thrilled that San Franciscans made their voices heard, demanded change, and will finally begin to see the results they deserve. In just the past two months, San Francisco made major strides in advancing public safety by successfully recalling District Attorney Chesa Boudin, investing in police staffing, and passing Proposition D to create an Office of Victims’ Rights.
San Franciscans decisively voted to recall Boudin by more than 10 percentage points, and for good reason.
I was a vocal critic of the former district attorney and endorsed the recall, because I believed his actions, or lack thereof, failed to keep San Franciscans safe. His refusal to file charges in many cases — including the murder of Emma Hunt, the failure to charge Troy McCallister in the five opportunities he had before McCallister killed two women on New Year’s Eve in 2020, and his utter neglect to give proper attention to domestic violence cases — cemented my resolve to support the recall.
Further, as someone who has worked on gun violence prevention for more than two decades, I was astounded by his lack of enforcement on gun crimes. And the open-air drug markets and placing the safety and lives of drug dealers over those of addicts, their loved ones, families and businesses in the Tenderloin, and everyday San Franciscans, was a complete dereliction of duty. Failing to work with other law enforcement agencies to address these issues only made them worse.
It is my sincere hope that with a new administration in place, an emphasis on public safety will be a priority, while of course balancing the need for critical criminal justice reform initiatives.
INVESTING IN THE POLICE
For more than two years, the San Francisco Police Department has had a staffing crisis. In March 2020, an independent study on police staffing levels found that the SFPD needed to hire 330 officers to meet the demand for service at that time. Since then, the need for officers has grown to more than 500 and is projected to be more than 700 by the end of the fiscal year.
It’s no secret that the SFPD has struggled to recruit and retain sworn officers. A generation of experienced officers is in the process of retiring, and we have not been able to recruit enough to replace them.
We’re losing approximately two officers per week through attrition. And new recruit applications have significantly decreased over the past five years — falling by 67 percent from 2017 to 2021.
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.
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, Philadelphia has 40, Boston has 31, and San Francisco would only have 22 if all the budgeted positions are filled, but we know they aren’t, so we’re actually much closer to 19. 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, and without adequate staffing these measures are cast aside to prioritize urgent calls for service.
I was thrilled that finally, after years of advocacy, a budget agreement was reached with the mayor in June to provide the resources necessary to hire 220 more officers to fill critical vacancies.
Historically, SFPD has had significant attrition issues that have compounded staffing challenges. In this year’s budget we invested approximately $38 million to allow the department to offer more financial resources, like bonuses and incentive pay, to recruit and retain our officers. While these initiatives won’t satisfy the full need, they represent a significant step in the right direction.
PASSING PROPOSITION D
Most important, I want to thank all of you for passing Proposition D to create an Office of Victims’ Rights and to establish the country’s first right to civil counsel for victims of domestic violence.
Approximately 20,000 times per quarter, a person in San Francisco is a victim of crime. Furthermore, arrests and charges only occur in a tiny fraction of these cases. This system often forces victims and witnesses of crime already suffering from the emotional, physical, and financial aftermath of a crime to navigate a complicated system through multiple departments, and many ultimately receive no support.
In San Francisco, only about half of domestic violence cases are presented for prosecution, and only a small fraction were charged under the previous district attorney. This is especially troubling, given that calls to domestic violence hotlines have continued to increase throughout the pandemic by up to 40 percent. Calls to local crisis lines have increased more than 40 percent, and calls to the Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic increased by 166 percent. Even more troubling is that the turn-away rate for victims seeking emergency shelter was 79 percent. In many of these cases, the perpetrator returns to the home where the victim lives, often with children, who are witnesses and victims of abuse as well.
Proposition D will make a profound difference in the lives of domestic violence survivors by providing them with a new set of tools to end the cycle of violence. This initiative makes individuals who report domestic violence or file a domestic violence restraining order eligible for full-scope legal representation to aid with their legal issues, including protective orders, gun violence restraining orders, custody, child support, Marsy’s Law, alimony, social service benefits, health care, employment, and housing. Legal aid is the single most cost-effective intervention we can provide to keep families safe and prevent them from falling into poverty.
Over the next year, I will be extremely focused on ensuring that Proposition D is fully implemented, and I will continue to advocate for the public safety resources San Francisco needs to remain a thriving and world-class city. We will continue to maintain our Anti-Burglary Neighborhood Network and work with our police captains to ensure we are maximizing the resources we have.
My number one priority is to keep people safe. I will not shy away from all that is required to make that a reality and will continue to be the loudest voice for public safety on the Board of Supervisors.