Last year, amid a national reckoning and racism and law enforcement, Mayor London Breed announced to great fanfare that she would be shifting $120 million over two years from the cops to Black community groups.
Breed has billed the city’s transfer of funds from law enforcement agencies as a necessary reparation for city policies that she says led to “decades of disinvestment” in Black communities.
Now the mayor’s budget is before the supes, and this week’s Budget and Appropriations Committee hearings made very clear:
Breed is not defunding the police. Not even close. There is no $60 million cut in the SFPD budget. In fact, depending how you measure it, the police budget she has proposed is going up over the next two years, by a lot.
The numbers are complicated, but the bottom line is simple: The mayor is requesting an increase of more than $15 million from the General Fund for the cops in the next fiscal year. Overall, the budget calls for spending $21 million more on the cops in the next two years.
“It is overall a sizable increase from what [the board] budgeted last year,” Sup. Dean Preston noted.
He noted that the city has launched a number of alternatives to policing, particularly creating street crisis teams made up of civilian social workers and mental-health professionals to respond to calls where someone is in distress but has committed no crime. (That’s about 50,000 calls a year.)
But Preston said “none of these alternatives have been paired with reductions in the police. Fundamentally, the police presence in this city hasn’t changed.”
Chief Bill Scott said that the department needs more money for new technology and to upgrade its fleet of cars. (Sup. Shamann Walton noted that modern police practices encourage cops to patrol on foot or bicycles, not in cars.)
But the budget also includes money to hire and train 100 new officers. As I noted when Breed first released her plan:
We all know the First Law of Holes: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” So if you think that police aren’t the best solution to public safety, perhaps you should stop hiring more of them.
But no: Chief Scott said there would be at least two and maybe three new academy classes in the next two years.
Sup. Hillary Ronen asked Scott whether the Street Crisis Response Teams could take a lot of the load off armed officers when it comes to responding to mental-health-related calls.
He was dubious that the seven teams the mayor is proposing to fund by next year would have the capacity to handle even 10,000 calls, much less the 50,000 the cops now get.
Ronen was dubious, too; so far, the SCRT teams have taken on just about 1,000 calls.
So why not reduce SFPD funding by enough to double the number of SCRT teams?
From Preston on Facebook:
When we removed Early Childhood from Department of Children Youth and Their Families, we will not continue to fund DCYF at the same levels. When we shift a function away from a city department, we do not continue to give that department the same funding. As we shift away large portions of the police department’s duties, why are we still funding the police as if they were completing those duties still? Especially in budget year 2 when these programs should be even more robust and extensive. We have got to pair some of these expansions of alternatives to police with decreasing police funding.
Additionally, Based on SFPD’s 4th Quarter Report, Black San Franciscans are stopped more than 7x as frequently as white San Franciscans and searched almost 15x as frequently as white San Franciscans. However, contraband is recovered from Black San Franciscans at similar rates to white San Franciscans. Despite the harm from these stops and the racial bias, we continue to invest in making such stops which we know will result in stop and search Black and Latinx people at disproportionate rates. Especially with respect to low-level traffic violations, why should we continue investing in stops when racial bias remains so prevalent?
And there are other units that could alleviate funding. If the DA is no longer prosecuting for prostitution, why do we fund SFPD’s sex work abatement unit? Does our city really need a Mounted unit? Can animal control not handle the Vicious and Dangerous Dogs Unit? Can the Coast guard handle the duties of the Marine Unit? Can the Fire Department not handle the duties of the bomb squad?
Apparently not. At least not so far, in this budget. But the supes have the ability to make cuts and (to a certain extent) rearranged money. And a majority of the Budget and Appropriations Committee seemed prepared to challenge the mayor’s proposal.
We will see where this ends up.