The City could save almost $400,000 a year and increase safety conditions by cutting and civilianizing positions throughout the county jail system while beefing up staffing at the overtime-heavy main jail, according to a draft copy of a budget analyst’s report obtained by The Examiner.
The report, set to be released this week, recommends cutting 15 deputy and supervisor positions from the ancillary jails, as well as civilianizing 16 positions in the records division. The cuts would save The City more than $2 million, allowing the Sheriff’s Department to shuffle and hire 60 sworn officers to County Jail No. 5 West, recently opened in San Bruno.
The difference would be a savings of $387,824 in a year that Mayor Gavin Newsom has already proposed cutting the department’s operating expenditures by more than $10 million.
Staffing and overcrowding issues at the new jail, which houses The City’s long-term prisoners, became such an issue that an older facility was reopened on the same property in October. Sheriffs deputies have been putting in almost 1,500 hours of overtime per week, sometimes working 16-hour days, prompting the Board of Supervisors to call for the budget analyst’s report.
Overtime staffing is about 35 percent cheaper than hiring more sworn personnel because of mandatory fringe benefits, the report found, but the facility should be staffed with permanent personnel nonetheless, “In order to avoid staff fatigue and to ensure that the facility is operated safely.”
But implementing the recommendations could be difficult because of the contract between the union representing sheriff’s employees and The City, according to Sheriff Michael Hennessey. Both civilianization and the shuffling of resources would depend on renegotiation.
“Personally, I don’t have any problem with civilianization, but the city’s [memorandum of understanding] with the sheriff’s association sets minimum staffing levels at each county jail,” Hennessey said.
The contract is set to expire in June 2009, and the budget analyst report recommends eliminating all references to minimum staffing levels at jail facilities. Deputy Sheriff David Wong, president of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Association, said contract negotiations should prove contentious.
“It is a very tough time for us, especially when you look at our pay,” he said. “Inmate attacks are always a probability when you have low staffing and a high jail population. That leads to lawsuits. Every time jail population increases, you have to adjust.”
A proposal by Mayor Gavin Newsom calling on city employees to take five days off next fiscal year without pay was overwhelmingly rejected by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Association.
In a heated discussion and vote, the deputies and supervisors in the union said their salaries were already too low and the rising price of gas wasn’t helping, association President David Wong said.
“I almost got lynched for bringing that package back to the union,” Wong said. “It wasn’t a calm meeting.”
Many of the deputies live outside The City due to the high cost of living, Wong said, and the prospect of $5-a-gallon gasoline in the future was cause for concern.
A spokesman for the mayor confirmed that the request was denied and that negotiations will continue.
Newsom offered to extend the union’s contract to 2011 if there was agreement on the furlough day issue.
The current contract is set to expire in June 2009.
— Brent Begin