SF police staffing up for discussion

The call by officials in City Hall to permanently increase the number of San Francisco police on city streets is being questioned by some who wonder why less costly ways to bolster a force already receiving the lion’s share of new funding aren’t being explored.

When Mayor Ed Lee introduced his $8.9 billion budget last week, he said it was a sign of his commitment to public safety. Much of that support is going to rebuild a police department short on staff, but now two supervisors are saying The City needs even more police.

But what Lee and the supervisors pushing for more police haven’t mentioned is a program that could free up more than 100 police officers for patrolling duties — and police say it’s proven to work.

The Sheriff’s Department program ran a six-month, station transfers pilot program that tasks deputies — as opposed to police officers — with the responsibility of transporting prisoners from stations to the jail and hospital.

But the program isn’t been funded by the mayor in the proposed budget.

“We could probably free up at least 100 to 150 officers,” said Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi about his station transfer program, which could expand to all the 10 police stations and keep cops on the streets instead of making them transport prisoners.

The pilot served the Mission and Tenderloin stations and ended in January.

Soon after the pilot ended, the debate over police staffing levels began when supervisors Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen requested a survey of police staffing. On Tuesday, using the requested survey as evidence, they introduced a resolution calling for the number of sworn officers to be raised from the mandated 1,971 to 2,200. Currently there are about 1,700.

The Controller’s survey compared The City’s police with nine other cities of similar size and makeup. It noted that while The City’s population increased by 12 percent from 2004 to 2014, the police staffing declined by 3 percent. Over that period, the rate of sworn officers per 100,000 residents declined 13 percent, making San Francisco’s staffing levels lower than the other cities.

While the survey showed San Francisco’s violent crime rate per resident in the middle of its peers, only slightly above the national average, property crime rates in The City are the second highest among the cities, only lower than Oakland.

This, contend Cohen and Wiener, is another piece of evidence that The City needs
more cops.

“I don’t agree that San Francisco is so intensely low in terms of crime that we just don’t need police officers…The number of officers does matter,” said Wiener.

Neither the survey nor Wiener have looked to the station transfers or other alternatives as a way to get more cops on the streets.

When asked about station transfers, Wiener said any ideas to put more cops on the streets should be tried. But he did not say why that program wasn’t funded.

Still, another issue is the cost for those new police, which would be in the millions.

One police officer, according to the survey, costs $175,000 a year in pay and benefits. So, an additional 229 officers would cost The City more than $40 million.

The Sheriff’s expanded station transfer program would have only cost The City about $1.1 million, a sum the Sheriff’s Department asked for but was refused.

Jonah Owen Lamb
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Jonah Owen Lamb

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