SF's public safety priorities lopsided, study indicates 

Taxpayer dollars have gone mostly to San Francisco’s jails and the Sheriff’s Department over the last two decades while less money has been allocated to prosecutors, police and probation officers, according to a preliminary Harvard study on public safety spending.

The information, compiled by District Attorney George Gascón using data from the California Attorney General’s Office, casts a different light on The City’s priorities when it comes to fighting crime.

Between 1986 and 2008, spending on jails and sheriff’s deputies increased by 200 percent when adjusted for inflation, according to the data. In the same period, spending on the Public Defender’s Office increased by 60 percent, probation by 25 percent and prosecutors and police did not see any increase in the proportion of spending.

Those numbers are far lower than nearby Sacramento, Santa Clara and Alameda counties, which have increased spending in almost every category.

Gascón will likely use the study during contentious budget hearings in the upcoming months. The City is facing a $380 million deficit and department heads have been asked to propose 10 to 20 percent cuts to their departments.

“From where we sit as one component of the criminal justice system, over time we’ve seen a really significant underinvestment in all but one area of the criminal justice in San Francisco,” said district attorney spokeswoman Erica Derryck. “If we want to be serious about investments in our criminal justice system we really have to look at these numbers and the disparities there.”

But Sheriff Michael Hennessey urged caution when looking at the relatively high spending on jails and sheriff’s deputies. First of all, they are one in the same, so to say both areas have increased in spending is redundant, he said.

Since 1985, the Sheriff’s Department has taken on more responsibilities, such as security at the Hall of Justice, City Hall, Laguna Honda Hospital and General Hospital, Hennessey said.

Proposals to privatize security at some of those venues have failed during past budget hearings.

Also out of Hennessey’s control is the population of the jails. Those numbers depend on the efficiency of a criminal justice system in which trials often take three years to complete.

“I do think that the courts particularly are strapped for how many people they can effectively process,” Hennessey said.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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Brent Begin

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