Defunding the police: There’s big money there

Even a modest cut in the SFPD budget would free up more than $100 million for other community programs.

As activists around the country, and here in San Francisco, talk about defunding the police, it’s worth taking a moment to look at exactly how much money this city spends on its cops.

It’s a very big number.

The SFPD is, and for years has been, the Pentagon of the local budget process – a vast, bloated, and largely unaccountable money pit. It’s almost doubled in the past ten years. In just the past three years it’s increased by 20 percent.

The SFPD is a very expensive part of the city budget.

At the Police Commission meeting Wednesday night, the department asked for a budget for the next fiscal year of roughly $700 million – and that’s after taking account of the cuts the mayor has asked for. (The cuts that were presented, of about $23 million, amount to just 3.2 percent, while other departments are facing potential reductions of as much as 10-15 percent.)

The commission, after a nine-hour meeting that ended at 3am, voted to reject the budget – after a long public hearing dominated by speaker after speaker calling for defunding the police – voted to reject the budget.

Just to put this in perspective, the Police Department budget ten years ago was $460 million. Three years ago, it was $580 million.

Most of that money comes from the city’s General Fund, which this year is at $5.5 billion (and will be much lower next year). So the Police Department, under the current proposal would take up 12 percent of the General Fund.

Sup. Shamann Walton, who is pushing to divert money from the SFPD to the Black community, has an interesting take on this. He notes on Facebook that the mayor has asked for a 10-15 percent reduction in the police budget – and that alone would be more than $100 million.

“So we are looking at more than $100 million to redirect to the Black community. We are about to get some amazing work done in SF!”

And that’s with only a relatively modest “defunding” of the police.

The vast majority of the SFPD budget goes for salaries, and cops make a lot of money (and have great pensions). I have no problem with public employees getting paid well – but as John Crew, a longtime police accountability lawyer, said at a hearing a few years ago, “we are paying top price, and what we are getting is amateur hour.”

Even Chief Bill Scott admits that a lot of calls that police answer could be handled as well, or better, by people with different training.

So let’s be bold here and say that we defund 20 percent of the police budget. No more cops responding to calls about homeless people. Mental-health professionals handling mental-health calls instead of police. A significant percentage of the uniformed officers carrying no guns.

That’s not only a remarkable model for community-based policing – it’s a way to shift a huge amount of money into alternatives.

Just 20 percent of the police budget would be $140 million.

Something to think about.