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Supes decide that more cops are the answer to crime

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Despite evidence, the board votes 6-5 to link police staffing to population

The supes want more police, a lot more. But will that make the city safer?
The supes want more police, a lot more. But will that make the city safer? SFPD photo

By Tim Redmond

JUNE 24, 2015 – The Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to approve a resolution that could lead to the city hiring at least 283 more police officers, at a cost of more than $40 million a year – in addition to the 241 new cops who are already in the mayor’s existing budget.

The vote was 6-5, with the board splitting along what have become predictable lines on critical policy issues.

The discussion centered on a critical question: Do cops prevent crime? Is increased police staffing the best way to make the city safer? Is spending on more officers (at roughly $175,000 a year in salary and benefits) the most effective or efficient way to promote public safety?

But there was a larger issue hovering over the debate, one that brought dozens of protestors, most of them young, to the board chambers. As Sup. David Campos pointed out, there have been a number of incidents, both nationally and locally, that have driven wedges between communities and the police – and the SF board has been silent.

If the only formal move the supes made, after Ferguson, after the racist and homophobic texts, after the killings of Alex Nieto and Amilcar Perez Lopez, was to hire more cops … well, he said, “we will look back on this and say it was one of the worst mistakes we’ve ever made.”

The crowd was noisy, and twice many in the audience stood up and turned their backs. On several occasions, sheriff’s deputies had to remove vocal protesters from the chambers, and when the final vote came, the deputies pretty much cleared the room.

The resolution came from Sups. Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen, and called for tying the future strength of the Police Department to increases in the city’s population. (No mention of what might happen in the unlikely event that the population were to drop.)

Wiener went through a list of the things the department can’t do. “There are too few officers to do community policing,” he said. “There’s not enough traffic enforcement, despite an epidemic of traffic collisions. We need more police officers.”

Cohen acknowledged that there were areas where the department could perform better, and she said that “the root causes of violence” can’t be solved just by police. “But the focus of this resolution is on police staffing,” she said, “not about every element of violence prevention.”

Sup. John Avalos then offered evidence that increased police staffing levels is not correlated with lower crime – at least not in San Francisco.

He showed slides comparing the rates of violent crime and property crime in the city in 1994, when the population was 742,000, and 2013, when the city had grown to 820,000 – with roughly the same numbers of sworn officers.

Crime actually dropped in almost all categories over that period, he said.

In fact, he noted, the International Association of Chiefs of Police opposes the concept of linking police staffing to population, since there are so many other factors the come into play. “Ratios such as officers per thousand are a totally inappropriate basis for staffing,” the group says.

The impact of more cops on the streets might not be entirely positive, Avalos said – when then-President Bill Clinton vowed to put 100,000 more cops on the streets and gave cities federal money to beef up their forces, “we saw higher rates of incarceration,” which drove more prison construction.

“If we increase the police force, we will see more young people of color behind bars,” he said.

Sup. Jane Kim noted that there are other ways to put more officers on the streets – by, for example, allowing the Sheriff’s Department to transport prisoners and by growing the homeless outreach team. “I know there are a lot of calls to the police about homeless people,” she said.

She said that “population based police staffing policy is far too simplistic. Crime doesn’t grow consistently with population.”

Defying what Wiener and others had argued, Kim said “police officers do not prevent crime.” But, she said, “we do know that keeping a kid in school prevents crime.”

Which led to a remarkable suggestion: What if the city decided to take the 283 most at-risk youth and commit to spending $175,000 a year on each of them? “We would make sure they have a secure home, three meals a day, the best education and tutors, and a guarantee that their college education was paid for – and that they could take unpaid summer internships since money wouldn’t be an issue,” Kim said. “Would that make our city safer? I think it would.”

Kim, unlike the sponsors of the measure, was realistic about the money. “The more we fund police, the less we found housing and schools,” she said.

Sup. Mark Farrell insisted that there’s no zero-sum game: “I think we should do both,” he said. But there’s never enough money to do everything.

Farrell went on: “The public expects public safety to be our top priority,” he said. He added: “People need to know that when they commit crimes there are going to be consequences so it doesn’t happen again.”

That’s a remarkable statement, since there’s a lot of evidence that incarcerating people doesn’t stop them from committing crimes; by making it harder, sometimes impossible, for them to find jobs, jail terms can actually increase the likelihood that someone will end up in a life of crime.

Sup. Eric Mar called the Wiener-Cohen bill a “mean-spirited piece of legislation” and said “this is not a way to make our communities safer.” He brought up the Nieto and Perez Lopez killings and said that the way the city addresses police shootings is “really important.”

Campos is the only supervisor who actually served on the Police Commission. He argued that a measure like this would be divisive and send a terrible message to parts of the community who still have serious issues with police trust and credibility. “Please don’t move this forward,” he said. “The symbol of this is going to send the wrong message.”

Also: Campos said that he had spoken to members of the Police Commission who “didn’t know this was happening.” Which hardly seems like a good way to make police policy.

Campos tried to send the measure back to committee. He failed, 6-5. Avalos offered amendments that failed, 6-5.

Breed offered amendments that didn’t change the basic thrust of the resolution, and they won, 6-5. Avalos tried again to send the measure back to committee, and he lost, 6-5.

So it was clear where this was going.

The mostly young people stood and turned their backs as the final vote was taken. They started chanting and the deputies cleared them all out. And the board, by the same 6-5, decided that the first message the supervisors should send about the police in 2015 was that we need to hire a whole lot more of them.

Voting for the cops: Wiener, Cohen, Christensen, Tang, Breed, and Farrell. Voting for a more nuanced approach to public safety: Avalos, Campos, Kim, Mar, and Yee.

This is how the board votes these days. And the District Three election will either change that or leave it in place.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

132 COMMENTS

  1. @VivaShotwell – This is specious nonsense, and kindly provide substantiation about who in “the SFPD” is making this claim. I have seen police unions making false claims about Prop 47 during the election campaign, but certainly no representative of our city’s police force should be telling lies.

    In particular, the claim that property crimes per se were downgraded to misdemeanor is not accurate at all. Attacking a person is still a felony. Burglary (including breaking into cars) is still a felony.

    When I see people citing crimes that they think Prop 47 has somehow made okay, it becomes clear that a scary number of voters don’t actually read what they vote on.

  2. @mortacai – Hilarious that someone who drags racial stereotypes into a discussion that’s not actually about race will self-identify as “post-racial.” Yeah, sure, that’s totally believable.

    There is an entire field known as criminology, with several peer-reviewed journals and many decades of research, showing a strong correlation between gender, age, and income equality to certain categories of crime, and where race is a factor it is an independent variable in lockstep with those other, actually relevant demographics. But you want “endless studies” show this very clearly to stop, because you’re “post-racial,” which boils down to making blanket statements about old white women.

  3. How many of the poor were out protesting?

    0.01%? 0.001%?

    Being poor doesn’t mean you speak for the poor. I’ve seen little evidence that you do.

  4. The purpose of a protest is to register your opinion and exercise free speech. It is not to disrupt anything.

    To try and achieve any change through non-democratic means is essentially to say that you don’t care that a majority may disagree with you. Instead you try and behave badly to get your way, like a small child.

    Most people want the status quo.

  5. Cops need to be intimidating. but a lot depends on how you behave towards them. They are always civil with me, but then I don’t give them cause or crap.

  6. Well, actually the cops DO protect your wealth. If you have property, they are a last resort. If you have financial instruments, maybe less so. But they do pretend to protect your person when you’re walking or driving around.

    I think they should take the 30% police responses to homelessness, let someone cheaper handle most of them, and refocus on traffic. I continually see vehicles blocking intersections for the personal fractional advantage – while disadvantaging dozens of others.

  7. What giveaways are “the rich” getting? Am I missing out on something?? 🙂

    No one seems to have mentioned anything about the coming tsunami of police retirements. Its something like a third or more of the force. Maybe thats why the Mayor is trying to hire 25% more officers.

  8. And in addition to having control issues, you have no understanding of political protest… being to disrupt the status quo… Thus, what you advocate is nonsense, much like most of what you have previously posted…

  9. For someone who claims to be wealthy, you sure seem to know what the poor need. Personally, I find your attitude classist and condescending.

  10. You can say that, but “the poor” themselves DO NOT AGREE. That’s why they were out protesting this police expansion. How nice for a self-described rich person to presume to speak for the poor. I’m sure they’re happy to have you to speak for them.

  11. A sense of injustice only makes sense if that billionaire somehow stole the money from the poor. But in most cases, at least around the Bay Area, that billionaire got wealthy by creating wealth, and provided jobs for thousands as well.

    I don’t think crime is higher because Steve Jobs created Apple. Do you seriously believe that?

    The word “justice” is horribly over-used by the left, even though it is a highly subjective notion. Envy, on the other hand, is usually plain to see.

  12. It’s good that you understand the difference between poverty and inequality, because a lot on the left do not. It is my submission that crime correlates better to poverty than inequality. A city with few if any rich people, like Detroit, has much higher crime than a city like SF with many rich people.

    I suppose you could try and mount an argument that if there are rich people then there are people worth robbing, and so in a sense inequality might provoke crime. But I think you are relying more on the notion that envy drives crime – I won’t rob someone unless I see someone with a lot more than me. But if that were true, then why is crime high in places with no rich people?

    As for the stereotypes, that’s a cheap word to use when the real issue is to discover the profiles of those most likely to commit crime. No sane person thinks that old white women commit crime at the same rate as young black males. Heck, even the black community wouldn’t assert that.

  13. Again, I disagree. The US system supports many diagnostic tests and routine check-ups. Perhaps to many, in fact, but that is another matter – the point is that US healthcare is very conservative.

    Whereas under a “free” system like the British NHS, they focus only on existing diseases. When care is free the ability to perform preventative healthcare is of necessity reduced because there is always a higher priority.

  14. The tea party is not a grass roots movement. The tea party is funded by right-wing billionaires. If this were a functioning democracy, we really would have strong grass roots movements.

  15. That’s actually a superb analogy illustrating the point you’re trying to oppose.

    Here in America, we have probably the best cardiologists around. We have the best technology to deal with late-stage heart disease. And we have some of the sickest people, the most death from heart disease, among the lowest life expectancy, in the industrialized world.

    In many ways, this can be attributed directly to our health care model, which focuses on expensive late-stage treatment (for those who can afford it), rather than expanding access to early intervention and primary care. Other countries have achieved better results by focusing on addressing the root cause of heart attacks, promoting healthier diets and giving everyone access to free preventative medicine.

  16. Some people probably do stereotype. The ones that do probably think, as you do, that most people share their stereotypes, regardless of how misguided those stereotypes may be.

    That aside, I think if you asked most people what the root cause of crime is, they’d probably identify poverty as one of the most important factors. In truth, it’s a bit more complicated. As Wilkinson and Pickett showed in their exhaustively researched book, it’s not so much poverty as inequality. There’s something about inequality that just isn’t good for the human psyche.

    Sure, you can find isolated examples that defy the general trend, but the exception proves the rule in that where there is more inequality, there is more crime, not to mention a host of other social ills.

  17. What you label as envy, others just see as a profound sense of injustice. Yes, that leads to crime.

  18. Lee got 50% more votes than Avalos. Are you seriously suggesting that the voters are so stupid that they don’t allow for funding differences?

  19. If it had been a white male trying to abduct a Hispanic child, Campos would be screaming blue murder instead of ducking

  20. And you clearly don’t have any proof that crime relates to inequality because I have already cited a counter-example.

    Most people would say that factors that correlate to crime include race, age, gender, location and economic status. Meaning that a poor young urban black male is hundreds, if not thousands, of times more likely to engage in crime than a prosperous oldrural white woman

  21. If the voters were not happy with the choices at election time, then another option would quickly build critical mass to fill the void.

    The reality is that the only new political movement to develop and endure in the last ten years is the Tea Party. Not exactly what you had in mind, I imagine.

  22. Why does some idiot always show up and say ‘If you don’t like it, you can move?’ Is this really the way they hope the world operates?

  23. On economic issues there’s no difference between you and the most reactionary Republicans. We have two parties that both occupy the far upper right corner of the political compass. That is not a reflection of American values as a whole, but a reflection of the moneyed elites who control the political system.

  24. “It is the poor who need protecting from each other, and so need the cops.”

    It is the poor who need protecting from greedy people who are wealthy are yearn to be wealthy, and so we need regulations and regulators.

  25. Lee had the entire corporate media working to elect him, not to mention a wealthy sponsor in Boss Conway. Avalos’s campaign had few resources. This is no more a democracy than 1880’s New York was.

  26. pretty dumb remark – your blind hatred really has you misinterpreting anything and everything

  27. SF is the the second most unequal city in the US and yet is nowhere close to the 2nd highest in crime. So clearly inequality isn’t the factor.

    And how could it be? How could having some billionaires here lead to MORE crime?

    Or are you arguing that envy causes crime?

  28. The cops don’t protect my wealth. My wealth is mostly in property and stocks. Buildings really cannot be stolen in any meaningful way, and stocks in a nominee account can probably only be stolen by another rich person.

    It is the poor who need protecting from each other, and so need the cops.

    In the 2010 election, Lee’s campaign spent a lot of time researching what was important for the voters. The answer was jobs, and that is how Lee’s campaign was successful – by being the jobs candidate. Avalos had no policies to create jobs, and lost badly.

    Public safety is always a top priority – that is why the voters are happy for it to be the number one budget item.

  29. Wrong, because most victims of crime are poor. The rich can afford security systems, gated communities and security guards.

    So the poor need cops more than the rich.

  30. Protest all you want as long as you have approval, as long as you cause no damage or inconvenience, and as long as you allow business to proceed.

  31. The police already have the powers they need to make arrests if a protest gets out of hand or if it has not been permitted.

    Peaceful approved dissent is not the problem; ugly intimidating mobs is the problem

  32. My point was that crime doesn’t correlate to inequality.

    More cops might not mean less crime but that more crimes get solved.

  33. Only in SF would an Obama-voting registered democrat who supports gay marriage and abortion be called a conservative or a reactionary

  34. Im sorry to hear that. But the fact remains that we live in an incredibly violent society. The worst thing about these incidents is that no one is surprised anymore. Every time there is a headline that some deranged young man shot and killed a dozen people in a school/church/movie theatre its just part of every day life in the US.

  35. “Moderate” is a misnomer and a lie… those who pass themselves off as moderates here are more like authoritarian reactionaries.

  36. I assume you’re working to get signatures to put a measure on the fall ballot for zero tolerance of dissent, so you can prove that is actually supported by a majority. If you were, it wouldn’t pass.

  37. It is the president of the board of supervisors (who won at least partly because of the money spent against her opponent for not voting to remove Ross) who decides if the SFSD should remove people who are protesting. And on June 4th when the moratorium was voted on, it was SFSD who put up barriers on the steps of City Hall.

    People are angry. “Getting slapped” down isn’t going to stop people from protesting.

  38. The hope is that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will start to believe it.

    Still, the result is the same. The politicians are bought and paid for, so they spend money on the priorities of the elites. What do people care about? The high cost of living. Where does the city spend it’s resources? More tax giveaways to the rich, and more cops to protect them.

  39. Important to whom? To wealthy property owners, and the politicians they buy, I’m sure it’s paramount to have a strong state security apparatus to protect their property. To those who are just struggling to get by, it’s probably more paramount to have the government spending its resources on trying to make their struggle easier. Of course they’re not the ones buying the politicians in our kleptocracy. Hence you get the priorities you get.

    I don’t know your factoid about Oakland is true. But if in fact a city like Oakland, with all of its problems, spends 70% of its budget on cops and jails and prosecutors, that is just sick.

  40. It isn’t about trusting. It is about doing tasks that were already done as part of a pilot program which would allow more police to work beats.

  41. Keep up the incendiary, disrespectful and often extreme comments. Every time you post something, our side gains more support.

  42. Funny thing: After that downgrading, San Francisco has seen a substantial increase in property crimes (which were downgraded from felony to misdemeanor), which the SFPD directly attributes to the change in policy. It’s true that California has too many people in prison, and we should try to keep more people out of prison. But this reform has come at a very direct cost to thousands of San Franciscans.

  43. Seems reasonable. Overall I think population can be one of a number of variables in determining how many policemen are needed.

  44. Yeah! We want cheap rent and everything for nothing… we are so special we don’t need money. Let everyone but us pay. We are so special and have so much soul and art and crap like that. You are just lucky all us deadbeats grace you with our fabulous presence….

  45. It would also be better if we could reduce heart attacks by improving diet and exercise routines.

    But I still want to have a lot of cardiologists around.

  46. Police officers can reduce crime there is no doubt about that. But wouldn’t you hope that the United States would at least try to use non violent methods to reduce crime? Isn’t nuclear disarmament better than nuclear proliferation?
    Honestly, if I were on a jury I might give Dylann Roof or Dimitriri Tsarnaev the death penalty but ultimately violence begets more violence. It doesn’t solve problems over the long run.

  47. Can we apply that same logic to all public sector workers then? If not, why not?

    Saying that inequality causes crime is dubious. Detroit is more economically equal than SF and it has more crime. Inequality often just means that there are more rich people and not that the poor are any poorer.

  48. At the last mayoral election, the answer was definitely jobs, although that was coming out of the 2007-2009 recession.

    We’d have to ask the question again now, but any house is too expensive if you don’t have a job, so I’m not sure the answer would be different. And if you have a better job, a more expensive home becomes affordable.

    While public safety is always a paramount concern. Oakland spends about 70% of its city budget on public safety. Obviously it’s very important

  49. I think the concept of diminishing returns is at play here. Beyond a certain minimum number of cops, which American cities far exceed, further reductions in crime generally come from addressing the social ills which are the root causes of crime. Primary among those is economic inequality. Blowing scarce city resources on 283 cops, at $175,000 apiece, will do nothing to solve that.

  50. No, there is a difference between a protest and preventing elected officials from doing their jobs.

    Just because you can shout loudly doesn’t mean anything, except that you probably realize your own impotency at some level.

    The rest of us vote for elected officials and want them to do their work.

    Have fun getting escorted out.

    Wow, I am more convinced than ever that we need a ton more cops.

  51. Police are useful DURING and AFTER a crime has been committed. Also, they will enhance patrols on your block if there are calls. I was a Crime Prevention Specialist for SF SAFE (415-673-SAFE) for 10 years. Strongly recommend contacting them to help you organize your block and give valuable crime prevention tips on home security and personal safety strategies. A neighborhood where people know and watch out for one another is a safe – and friendlier – one!

  52. Public safety is the voters’ top concern, along with jobs.

    So that is where the money should go as a priority.

  53. I think most people – including long time Mission residents – would find attempted kidnapping “offensive”.

  54. That is why it is called a protest.

    They don’t stop when they are told to.

    And it has nothing to do with needing a “stronger police force” since the police weren’t there.

    But it does show sheriff deputies can do jobs SFPD does for less money

  55. It’s the same bizarro logic that says that building fewer new homes will decrease housing prices. You have to suspend logic and common sense if you ever want to be a progressive in this town.

  56. Child abduction is OK as long as it is abduction by a Hispanic. That is the real message from Campos.

  57. So Jane Kim’s suggestion is take the worst behaved 283 kids and give them $175k a year. That is great suggestion, I will get my kid to start hitting teachers straight away so he can get into the top 283. Lets reward bad behavior.

  58. No, @Nancy Snyder is right on. If the concept of child abduction in your neighborhood offends you then you can move.

    Right on, @Nancy Snyder. Brilliant comment!!!!!

    Keep up the good work.

  59. Why don’t we fire half the cops, and use the savings to hire mercenaries to attack google shuttles and rob techies. The increased crime will help mission affordability much more than a moratorium. I’m willing to try a demand-side solution…

  60. Police officers don’t prevent crime? Jane Kim really said that? So I suppose if we have no cops then crime rates will stay the same, or drop? WTF is she smoking?

  61. This is really a fight over claims on resources, the cops’ claim and the nonproftis’ claims.

    Any dollar that goes to the cops is a dollar that cannot go to feed the cadre.

    I’d rather that these dollars go to government provided public services, housing, health care, Muni, Rec and Park, etc. than to either the nonprofit industrial complex or down the SFPD rat hole.

    There is a chilling climate of fear knowing that the Chief of Police has no regard for the rule of law which he is paid the highest salary in the US to allegedly enforce.

  62. This is truly a disgrace. Campos is a joke and should be impeached for his blatant disregard for his constituency.

  63. Yes, at some point those who try and disrupt and harass and intimidate at public meetings are going to have to be slapped down. It seems that far too tolerant an approach is taken.

    Of course that is a SFSD job and not a SFPD job, and that’s a problem, as the head of SFSD is a well-known (wife-beating) leftie. That will change in November so maybe things will improve them.

  64. Yeah. The fact that our elected officials weren’t in physical danger may not be where we want to set the standard.

    They have a job that they were elected by the people to do. There are always protest groups at their meeting, when the President bangs the gavel and asks them to be quiet they do so, at least for awhile.

    This group just ignored her and did what they wanted to do. Until force was used against the, (which rarely happens at that level in BOS meetings).

    People can’t make up their own rules as to how they impact the business of others. Which is why this group provided a clear example of why the wise supervisors voted for a stronger police force.

  65. Yes, our leaders have more freedom to make tough decisions if we have a police force capable of quelling the uglier forms of dissent that we have seen recently. A majority support zero tolerance being shown towards those who disrupt, transport, commerce or the business of city hall.

    I am very comfortable with this decision

  66. The issue is more about broad reform in the US criminal justice/prison system, which is one of the few topics both conservatives and liberals lobbying Congress agree on these days – having 2% of the adult men in this country warehoused in cages is a loss of human resources as well as an incredible cost to society in terms of dollars. The ineffective “war on drugs” imposed mandatory sentencing guidelines for minor drug offenses which resulted in thousands of young men being imprisoned for decades for minor drug offenses. Plus, judges often sentence people with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness to jail because they have no where else to put them. It is a truly barbaric system which reflects badly on the entire country.
    Cops are like the military – they follow orders and do what they are told. But the entire criminal justice system in the US will have to be changed to truly rehabilitate people to become productive members of society.

  67. Pass the projected 10-year cost to developers. Let them raise the prices on ‘luxury condos.’ It’s not like those in the 1% know the value of anything.

  68. No, it didn’t make that case.

    It was a protest. Nobody was in danger. There was no need for a “strong police force”

    The vote was briefly delayed.

    5 of the supervisors did their job.

    6 voted for a non-binding resolution with no way to pay for the new police they called for.

    Though maybe it showed Sheriff deputies can take on more tasks, so more police aren’t needed

  69. I was watching the meeting on SFGOV TV.

    The ‘protesters’ could not have made a better case for the need to have a strong police force. They repeatedly disrupted the meeting and shouted down supervisors despite multiple pleas by Breed and even the clerk to stop.

    Breed had to call at least 2 recesses because the group obviously had no respect for the rule of law. These were our elected officials who weren’t able to do their job because of a mob mentality. Whoever shouts loudest gets their way, I guess.

    Ironic that the deputies had to use force to clear the room of people who felt that we don’t need police.

    However you felt about the need for more police before the meeting, if you watched it there was no room for doubt that, if you believe in the rules of law, that we need a strong police force in this town.

  70. “Voting for a more nuanced approach to public safety: Avalos, Campos, Kim, Mar, and Yee.
    Nuanced meaning doing absolutely nothing.

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