Amid concerns over violent crime on city streets, the idea of redeploying police officers at San Francisco International Airport to serve crime-plagued neighborhoods has re-emerged after it gained little support last year.
The Police Department is operating about 300 officers below the 1,971 mandated staffing level set by voters in 1994. The City is also struggling to recruit new officers, due to San Francisco’s high cost of living is high and the fact that other cities offering more attractive incentives.
During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whose district recently experienced a rash of gun violence resulting in two deaths, said he wants police Chief Heather Fong to figure out how to free up some police officers at the airport to help fight crime on San Francisco’s streets.
"Instead of me just making a unilateral move in singling out which positions that we want to go ahead and splice in SFO, I am instead putting forth a request of the city attorney to require that the chief of police and the city controller create a plan to reallocate positions from the airport bureau to [police] district stations," Mirkarimi said.
There were 154 sworn officers working at the airport as of January, performing such duties as patrolling airport terminals, responding to emergencies and writing citations or parking tickets, according to Deputy City Controller Monique Zmuda.
Police officers who were trained in the same academy classes as the rest of The City’s officers sometimes end up on duty at the San Francisco International Airport, where their salary is paid for through airport money and part of an airport security program. Because of that, if an officer at the airport were redeployed elsewhere, The City would have to reimburse the airport, according to Zmuda.
There could also be ways to cut down on the number of officers needed at the airport by identifying efficiencies and civilizing positions, according to Mirkarimi.
As violence continues to plague San Francisco, Mirkarimi said, "We need to marshal resources in every way possible."
Last year, Supervisor Bevan Dufty proposed during a city budget hearing the transfer of 40 officers from the airport to city streets in an effort to cut down on crime, but the idea did not gain support. Dufty said he wanted the airport to make up for the loss of officers through the use of overtime. On Tuesday, Dufty said he was looking forward to working with Mirkarimi on the legislation and acknowledged that the police stations "are stretched thin," and that getting "the twoor three or four officers is just huge."
Last year, Mirkarimi successfully took on another controversial public safety issue, requiring regular foot beat patrols in The City’s neighborhoods. He was criticized by Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Police Department for trying to dictate the deployment of officers, which they said should be left up to the police chief.