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Thursday, June 13, 2024

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City HallThe AgendaSupes take on police budget

Supes take on police budget

Does SFPD really need $1,100 custom calfskin boots while people are lining up for hours for free food? That's The Agenda for June 28-July 4


The Board of Supes is all about the budget this week, and it’s been fascinating watching the Budget and Appropriations Committee hearings.

Sup. Hillary Ronen, the committee chair, is looking for more than $1 billion in addbacks—things that the mayor left out of the budget—and she’s asked every department to work with the supes Budget and Legislative Analyst to find cuts in what the mayor has proposed.

SF cops train at the Police Academy: How many more officers do we need, and who will pay the cost? (Photo SFPD)

All day long during two hearings, department head after department head came forward and said they had reached an agreement with the BLA. Ronen thanked them and moved on.

Then came the cops.

The Police Department is set to receive an additional $50 million this year—and Chief Bill Scott told the supes he would not accept even the modest suggested cuts, which would still leave the department with more money than last year. The department, he said “had its back against the way.”

Ronen was furious:

The amount of poverty that residents are facing in our city is unprecedented. The need for basic things like food and shelter and healthcare and quality education for your child. Every department’s back is against the wall and every single department came forward and worked with the BLA to give up some money. Because they know we have a $1.3 billion add back of basic needs. Like broken elevators and seniors stuck on the top floor of their apartment building. Mothers buying stolen meat off the street because they can’t afford the meat in the grocery stores. This is really serious, and it is serious to me, and I’m disappointed that this department can do what every single other department did. I take that seriously and I’m really upset about it, I have to say ….Very few departments like your department have an increase of $50 million. … I find it really, really not just disrespectful but irresponsible that this department thinks itself exceptional and above every other city department in San Francisco and isn’t agreeing to a single cut. 

The chief and his staff hemmed and hawed and said they needed more academy classes. Sup. Shamann Walton was not impressed, and suggested the department budget could be cut by $20 million:

I want to start off by stating that I think we have been more than reasonable with the department going into this budget hearing.

He noted that the supes had approved raises and retention strategies for existing officers, and said he was prepared to give the department what it needs for public safety. But, he said, the numbers the department has offered to support its staffing levels are bogus:

Most definitely there is data that doesn’t support the number of officers that the department supports. There is data that demonstrates that calls for service is horrible way to determine coverage and deployment. Let me give an example. To all of our officers who are here, who work hard, you know and some areas in the city people don’t call the police department when they hear gunshots. Some areas of the city people don’t call the police when certain violent things happened.

But it’s also unfortunate that some people call the police department when a child is selling lemonade on the street. When somebody is writing Black Lives Matter on their own house. So calls for service are a horrible way to decide who to deploy because different cultures call police for different things.

He suggested that the city budget

Also takes into account the other investments that are needed to keep people safe. Like prevention. Like intervention. Like employment . Like mental health. Like training, education. Like keeping people from starving.
So my proposal reduces about $20 million or so budget where we have more police per capita than cities with millions of people.

Sup. Dean Preston is proposing that the supes put $50 million of the police budget on reserve—meaning that the money has been allocated buy can’t be spent until the department came back to the board with “meaningful progress to decrease racial disparities and address the five-to-ten year projected backlog in producing police records mandated for disclosure under Senate Bill 1421 and, more recently, Senate Bill 16.”

Preston noted: “Over the past years, we have seen lots of promises at budget season, only to hear nothing about them again once the budget has been passed and signed. Placing money on reserves until we see meaningful progress on these absolutely essential goals will give us an opportunity to ensure some accountability.”

He appeared at the hearing to suggest that there are plenty of areas to cut, starting with the Mounted Unit, which serves no legitimate law-enforcement purpose, and the Honda Unit, which exists mostly to intimidate protesters.

Those two units together cost the city $3.8 million a year, and some of that waste is pretty stunning. According to figures I’ve seen from the city’s contracting agency, each mounted officer gets a pair of calfskin boots that cost almost $1,100. The boots, from the Dehner Company, are custom made.

Preston also noted that the cops spend $120,000 a year on a full-time videographer and $289,000 on a director of strategic communications, whose job is to make the cops look good.

Oh, and the city is about to pay another big settlement, this time $375,000, to the victims of needless police abuse.

While, as Ronen points out, mothers are buying stolen meat and people are lining up for hours to get free food.

As she noted, she doesn’t want to treat the cops as something different from every other city department.

Your officers are incredible. They work extremely hard, and that is true of so many different departments. That is true of the fire department. That is true of teachers. That is true of public defenders and prosecutors. And you know what, their understaffed and they work seven days a week well into the night and they have extremely stressful jobs. And yet you never see work stoppages. You never see the kind of articles claiming that this is a different situation. It’s not all you. It’s the press and it’s the media. But I want to tell you that in this committee’s eyes we are not looking to punish you. We are looking to treat you like we treat every other city department.

The committee gave Scott until Monday/27 to come back with some more realistic numbers. That’s when the Budget and Appropriations Committee hearings on the budget will continue. The committee will also meet Wednesday/29 to consider a proposal by Preston to appropriate $122 million for social housing and upgrades to existing affordable housing—essentially spending the Prop. I money the way the voters wanted and the mayor has rejected.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
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.


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