The Board of Supes Budget and Appropriations Committee moved toward some significant cuts for the Police Department today, with the chair, Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer, proposing that the next four Police Academy classes be cancelled and Sup. Shamann Walton calling for a 75 percent reduction in police overtime.
The move toward reducing police funding that the supes discussed went way beyond what the mayor is proposing.
Along the way, the committee members challenged Chief Bill Scott, with Sup. Rafael Mandelman at one point saying that he didn’t understand why the city can’t fire bad cops. “If we have a bad city planner, then in the worst case we get some bad planning decisions,” he said. “If we hire a bad cop, people die. We need to make it easier to fire a bad cop than a bad planner.”
That, of course, is due in large part to the city’s contract with the Police Officers Association, which makes it difficult, sometimes almost impossible, to make the necessary reforms in the department.
That contract will come before the supes shortly after the budget process is over, and Sup. Hillary Ronen, who is on the Budget Committee, told me tonight that she is not voting for it.
I suspect a lot of her colleagues my feel the same way: If the POA won’t accept contract changes that allow for necessary reforms (including making it easier to get rid of racist, violent, murderous cops) the deal that the mayor cut with the POA will be defeated.
But back to the hearing:
Walton asked the chief how many of the Obama Justice Department’s 272 recommendations for reform have been implemented. Scott said the department had finished 69.
“There are a lot of officers making good money who are working against the recommendations or not following them,” Walton said. If the department has accomplished only 25 percent of the needed reforms, he said, then the department should get only 25 percent of the money it wants for overtime and new academy classes.
Scott said that the cuts the supes are talking about might lead to layoffs of officers. “If we have layoffs,” Walton said, “why can’t we layoff racist, murderous cops who have a history of racial profiling?”
The overall discussion went to the critical question: How may armed police officers does the city need – and how much of the work that we now assign to people who are trained as warriors should be done by people who are trained as social workers, medical professionals, and civilian administrators?
How deeply should the city defund the police?
Scott argued that cuts to the number of sworn officers would endanger public safety. In fact, he told the supes that their proposals might make their own districts less safe.
But Walton said that the data shows more police doesn’t make communities more safe.
Fewer noted that the police are just one part of the overall system of public safety. She said that the question of funding police or funding other safety services was “a false choice.”
The money that is taken away from the cops will go to other programs that are more likely to prevent crime, she said.
In one of the more bizarre moment in the hearing, Ronen asked the chief why it was necessary to have such vast overpolicing of demonstrations. “I see sometimes a dozen demonstrators and for more police surrounding them,” she said.
The chief’s response: We wouldn’t need so many cops on the ground if we had helicopters.
The city, for very good reasons, has banned police helicopters since the 1960s.
Ronen pressed the chief. The School Board has voted to remove police officers from the schools. The Budget and Legislative Analyst has said that there are as many as 300 sworn officers doing work that civilians can do. The new Mental Health SF program will replace police officers with paramedics and psychologists for the 20,000 annual calls involving people facing mental-health issues on the streets.
“So we can reduce the number of officers significantly,” she said.
In the past six months, Ronen said, “the whole world has erupted after the death of George Floyd. “It’s not just the city but the entire world is saying that something is fundamentally broken about the way the US does policing.
“The [mayor’s proposed] 2.6 percent cut in the police budget is a slap in the face” to that movement. “It’s about a system that is rotten to the core, that was developed out of slavery to police Black bodies. We must rise to the moment and not give lip service to this movement.”
Fewer proposed that all of the next four Police Academy classes be cancelled. “Why should we bank on the academies when we don’t know how many police officers we are going to need?” she asked.
She said that the dramatic culture shift needed in the department “is not happening.”
She asked why the department can’t change its shift schedules to use existing resources better. The answer: That requires a “meet and confer” with the POA.
Which takes us back to the POA contract.
The mayor has signed off on a deal that give the cops nice raises with absolutely no concessions on discipline, use of force, shift rules, or any of the other factors that are essential to reforming and reframing policing in this city.
If the supes reject that contract, the mayor will have to go back to the negotiating table – and this time, maybe she’ll insist on some real changes.