One of the core functions of local government is to protect its citizens. As a former prosecutor and as a mother of two children I am raising in our city, this is not an obligation I take lightly. It has been my top priority since becoming your District 2 supervisor in January. Since then, I have held three public safety forums in District 2 — bringing together the community and the captains from our police stations, SFPD’s commander for community relations and District Attorney George Gascón — in an effort to discuss our property crime epidemic and other pressing public safety concerns.
What is undeniable is most people don’t feel safe and are fed up. Whether it is because of a staggering increase in property crime, reports of a teenager being mugged in broad daylight on his way home from school, or the rampant drug use on our streets, San Francisco must do more to keep all of its citizens safe.
On May 15, 2018, I stood with Mayor Farrell and Chief Scott at the Police Academy to announce the mayor’s budget proposal of $34.2 million in new public safety investments. His proposal includes a plan to add 250 sworn personnel over the next four years and additional funding for new vehicles, equipment, and reform efforts. I believe San Francisco has underinvested in our police department for years, and Mayor Farrell’s proposed investment is a huge step in the right direction.
The approach is thoughtful and designed to address San Francisco’s current needs: to address property crime with foot patrol officers, to help our Homeless Outreach Team deliver services to those suffering on our streets, to create psychiatric emergency response teams, and expand our serial crimes unit and station investigations teams. It would also equip our police force with the resources they need — such as working police cars — to do their jobs well and to keep us safe.
In 1994, the voters passed a charter amendment that mandated a minimum of police staffing at 1,971 sworn full-duty officers. Twenty-four years have passed and we have met that minimum just one time — in 2009. According to Chief Scott in a recent hearing before the Budget and Finance Committee, we currently have about 1,878 sworn full-duty officers in the department. It doesn’t take much to realize that San Francisco is a much different city than it was in 1994. Since then, many different neighborhoods have been developed, increasing the areas where SFPD must provide services. Our city’s population has increased by more than 16 percent — from 729,051 in 1994 to over 850,000 in 2018.
Some argue the 1,971 number chosen was just arbitrary and we shouldn’t pay attention to it. Even if you buy that argument, there are certainly other studies out there to show we are underinvesting and must do more. The San Francisco Charter also requires the City Services Auditor (CSA), a division in our Controller’s Office, to monitor the level and effectiveness of city services. CSA conducted an audit on police staffing in 2015 and compared our police department to nine other peer cities’ departments. While San Francisco’s population increased almost 12 percent from 2004 to 2014, the number of sworn officers decreased by 3 percent. The rate of sworn officers per 100,000 residents declined 13 percent from 265 sworn officers in 2004 to 230 sworn officers in 2014. The study also found San Francisco’s sworn staffing levels per 100,000 residents and daytime population are lower than the peer group averages. San Francisco also falls below the peer trend line for number of sworn officers per square mile.
Other arguments I’ve heard for not investing in our police department are the exorbitant costs of police officers. While CSA found that San Francisco has the highest average salary and benefits per sworn officer, it is only the third-highest when adjusted by the cost of living index; overtime spending for civilian and sworn staffing falls in the middle of the peer group. Yes, police officers cost money, but you know what also costs money? Crime. How much are people spending on fixing their broken windows, installing security cameras, and paying for whatever one must face after becoming a victim of a violent crime? I submit to you most would rather pay upfront for police services than on the backend of crime after being victimized.
By the time this article is in print, the Budget and Finance Committee will have deliberated on the public safety budgets, including the $34 million investment in SFPD, and will have passed out a budget to the full Board of Supervisors. I can’t make any promises about what the Budget and Finance committee will do, but I can promise you as a member of that committee and someone who is committed to this issue, I will do whatever I can to make certain San Francisco is investing in its public safety departments at the level our citizens deserve. Whether or not my colleagues at the Board of Supervisors follow my lead and commit to funding our public safety departments at appropriate levels, I will continue to shine a spotlight on the issue, and I am committed to making sure we get where we need to be.
To continue my focus on public safety in our neighborhoods, I will be hosting three public safety fairs at our Shared Schoolyards in District 2 throughout the summer. Our first one will be held on July 14 at Cobb Elementary School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is a free family event with plenty of activities for our kids. Our police and fire departments will be there, along with San Francisco SAFE, our Department of Emergency Management, and other vendors. I hope to see you there! For other upcoming events, please go to sfsharedschoolyards.org.