Mayor Ed Lee announced Tuesday increased funding to the Police Department, which he said further proves his commitment to reform a department rocked by police shootings and reports of bias.
But as the mayor remains under pressure by a group of protesters rallying in and around City Hall for nothing short of the firing or resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr, Lee also reiterated his support for the chief during a news briefing with reporters Tuesday.
The briefing took place at City Hall behind locked doors amid the threat of continued protesters around police reform, where Lee was joined by Suhr and Police Commission President Suzy Loftus.
When asked about the protesters’ call for Suhr to step aside, the mayor said, “I have never rejected it outright, but I have always said that I am not ready to make that change.” He added, “I just don’t believe that having a different chief automatically gains the kind of groundwork that we are already gaining with reforms.”
The $17.5 million boost announced Tuesday is part of the mayor’s proposed two-year budget, which he will submit to the Board of Supervisors for review and adoption by June 1.
“It puts kind of the financial teeth in all of the reforms that we are seeking,” Lee said.
A total of $4.4 million will go toward the Police Department, of which half will pay for buying new equipment to help modify the department’s use of force to allow for more time and distance when confronting a suspect in a dangerous situation, Suhr said.
That funding includes money for a pilot of 100 Tasers and 150 defibrillators for placement in patrol cars with officers armed with the Tasers to reduce possible death.
The decision, however, to actually purchase Tasers remains a subject of contention. While Suhr believes they would reduce fatal shootings, critics argue they will only lead to abuse and also result in death.
“There is allocation there if it is approved by the commission,” Loftus said of the Tasers. “That decision has not been made by the commission yet.”
Funding is also provided for the creation of a less-lethal force training facility, as well as the purchase of 60 defense shields and 35 net guns for pilot testing.
Both Suhr and the mayor emphasized that there is also funding to increase training of officers to combat bias policing.
The mayor’s funding adds $1.8 million to the expand Office of Citizen Complaints to increase staff by 25 percent with the addition of four investigators on the ground and one senior investigator. The increase in funding comes as voters are being asked this June to approve a ballot measure requiring increased investigation by the OCC into police shootings.
The lion’s share of the funding, some $11.3 million, will go toward community programs designed to reach out to families impacted by violence and work with the youth to prevent violence.
“This is a pivotal moment for this Police Department,” Loftus said, adding there is a need to build trust between the community and police. “We cannot ignore that there are communities in this city who do not enjoy that relationship of trust and we cannot rest until every person in this city enjoys a relationship of trust,” Loftus said.
The mayor’s announcement came one day after District Attorney George Gascon released scathing preliminary blue ribbon task force findings of police bias and lack of oversight in the department.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at in detail,” Lee said. “I look forward to reading the entire report.”
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