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After cut threat, supervisors support adding more officers to SFPD

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San Francisco supervisors on Wednesday voted to preserve funding in Mayor Mark Farrell’s budget for an increase in Police Academy classes that is expected to increase the number of police on the San Francisco police force. (Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A plan to hire 250 additional San Francisco police officers over four years was approved Wednesday by a Board of Supervisors committee despite threats last week to cut academy classes to fund other programs.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee continued its review Wednesday of outgoing-Mayor Mark Farrell’s two-year city budget proposal. As of Wednesday morning, the committee had cut $29.5 million over two years for “add-backs,” money that would be re-allocated to other spending priorities.

“This has been a herculean effort,” committee chair and Board President Supervisor Malia Cohen said.

But many nonprofit workers and community advocates called on the committee to make deeper cuts by reducing police academy classes that set The City on the path to hiring 250 additional officers over four years. There are three classes planned for each of the next two fiscal years, at $7 million a piece. Each class trains about 50 recruits. Under the four-year plan, the number of full-duty sworn officers is expected to reach 1,971 in the upcoming fiscal year, increasing to 2,021 in the subsequent fiscal year. In the third fiscal year, the full-duty police officers would reach 2,071 and in the fourth year 2,116.

Budget analyst Harvey Rose had recommended that the committee cut 100 additional officers from the budget proposal, citing a lack of justification for the positions and a recent audit that said officers could be used more effectively.

Debbi Lerman, a representative of the San Francisco Human Services Network, called on the committee to approve Rose’s recommendation. “We can spend money to hire police and incarcerate more people or we can take a broader approach that honors our San Francisco values by allocating these funds to community-based programs that address the socio-economic factors that contribute to crime rates,” Lerman said.

Malea Chavez, deputy director of the The Homeless Prenatal Program, said, “I urge you to consider adding additional resources for the mental health services for families in lieu of additional police officers to deal with homelessness because it is really the prevention and intervention work that is going to help us.”

Business advocates, however, opposed cuts to police staffing.

Cassandra Costello, the vice president of public policy for the tourism and convention advocacy group SF Travel, said trade groups are hesitant to return to the city for conventions because of the conditions on the streets. “There is a clear need for additional support as evidenced on our streets daily,” she said.

Karen Flood, executive director of the Union Square Business Improvement District, also supported funding for more police officers and said visitors and employees in the Union Square area should feel safe. “We have been hearing more and more that they feel like the workplace that they are in is not safe because people are coming into the shops, coming in to the restaurants and acting erratically,” Flood said.

Police Chief Bill Scott encouraged the committee to fund additional officers. “The need for police officers is right now,” Scott said.

Ultimately, after days of deliberation, the majority of the committee members on Wednesday sided with the chief.

Cohen defended her decision to fund the officer boost. She said residents want to see a more visible police presence.

“I do believe that more police would offer us an opportunity to increase foot patrols,” Cohen said, adding that she wants to see police officers walking on Third Street, a commercial corridor in the district she represents.

Cohen also praised Scott for improving the department. “We have a new chief that has come in in the past year and half that has changed things drastically,” Cohen said.

The budget analyst suggested other cuts Wednesday to Police Department’s budget, including delaying the purchase of new vehicles, which would save $4.5 million. Each new patrol car costs about $70,000 apiece.

Cohen initially favored this recommendation, but Scott was able to convince her otherwise. “We have over 100 patrol vehicles out of our 300 that are over 10 years old. We have over 121 patrol vehicles that have over 100,000 miles on them,” Scott said. “Our fleet is in a critical state.”

The committee did vote for some cuts to the department Wednesday, approving in a 4-1 vote $1.5 million in reductions, which included a $500,000 cut to the $4.5 million budgeted for new patrol cars.

Cohen, along with Supervisors Norman Yee, Catherine Stefani and Jeff Sheehy, voted in favor of the cut. Supervisor Sandra Fewer opposed it. She told the San Francisco Examiner she would have preferred to cut one academy class and use other methods to boost officers, such as civilianizing more positions. She also thought the committee could have cut more funding to purchase new police vehicles.

After voting on the police department budget, the committee began deliberating how to reallocate the money it has cut from the budget proposal. This “add-back” process could continue late into the evening and possibly extend to Thursday.

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