The Board of Supes Budget and Appropriations Committee has approved roughly $30 million in additional cuts to the police budget – less than some wanted, but still an unprecedented move.
I have never seen the supes make any real, lasting cuts to SFPD in the name of downsizing the number of armed officers on the streets.
Among the plans the committee approved: Eliminate three of the four Police Academy Classes that the department had proposed.
Chief Bill Scott said cutting all four classes could wind up reducing the total number of sworn officers on the street from 1829 to 1589 by 2023.
Which isn’t that radical — we only had 1,649 cops in 2015, before the city started spending millions to increase the size of the force.
The supes agreed to let him keep one class.
Since a typical academy class has about 45 graduates, including lateral transfers, and existing officers are retiring quickly, and not all academy grads make it onto the force, we’re still talking about a potential reduction, by attrition, of maybe 200 sworn officers in the next three years.
That would be an additional future savings of about $30 million a year (I’m using estimates that the average cop salary, benefits, and retirement is about $150,000 a year, which is probably low).
The committee members were not always unanimous – Sup. Rafael Mandelman was the strongest supporter of SFPD, saying he would oppose any layoffs and wanted to keep at least two new academy classes.
Sups. Hillary Ronen and Shamann Walton wanted deeper cuts to the department.
But in the end, the committee did something that has never happened in my experience: The members agreed that we have too many officers in the force, that a significant amount of the work that the armed officers do can be better done by civilians, and that it’s time to re-imagine the role of the police in public safety.
Ronen started out last Friday’s meeting by saying that the city is ready to stop deploying police officers to handle the more than 20,000 calls a year that involve homeless people. There are another 50,000 calls involving people with mental-health issues, and the city is moving to shift all of that away from SFPD and onto teams of trained psychiatric and social workers.
She proposed that the board cut $6.7 million be eliminating half of the officers who staff the homeless outreach teams, leaving those teams largely civilianized. She also suggested the supes cut half the funding for the SFPD’s mounted squad, which has six officers and nine horses.
Chief Bill Scott said that the cut Ronen was suggesting would lead to layoffs of sworn officers, although he couldn’t say how many. Under the police union contract, any layoffs would start with the most recent hires, who Fewer said tend to be more diverse.
“We are in a catch-22,” Ronen said. The city doesn’t have the option to layoff the officers who have track records of excessive use of force and protect the younger, better trained, more diverse recruits.
“We have to do something substantial,” she said. “We have to do something that signifies the city is serious about reinventing and reforming policing.”
But none of the other committee members were willing to accept that proposal. “I don’t want to do any layoffs,” Fewer said. “They are feeding their families.”
Mandelman praised Chief Scott, saying that “our chief has been rising to this moment.” He said that department is current short by 255 officers, and said “I am leery of getting rid of any academies.”
But he went along with the plan to limit new academies – which means new hires — essentially allowing the department to decrease in size by attrition as existing officers reach retirement age or seeks jobs elsewhere.
They also agreed to cut 25 percent of the department’s $17 million overtime budget and cut that budget in half in the next fiscal year.
The $30 million goes back to the committee, which can use it to add back funds that the mayor had cut or not allocated for other departments.
The plan, along with the rest of the budget, will be up for public comment Monday/24. The entire Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting will be devoted to taking public comment; it starts at 10am. The committee’s final vote on the budget will come Wednesday/ 24. After that, the full board gets to vote on the budget.