SFPD lacks civilian staffing

A police officer walking a beat along Market Street is a common image of law enforcement work in The City. A highly trained officer filing human resources reports or doing clerical work, how ever, is not.

But San Francisco has a lot of officers doing just that, according to a recent Controller’s Office survey of the San Francisco Police Department’s staffing levels. That means fewer of The City’s police are on the streets fighting crime.

Last week, when the survey showing The City’s relatively low police staffing was issued, much of the debate centered on whether crime drops or rises when more cops are on the streets. Little was said in the ensuing debate about how wisely existing resources are being used, except for some talk of using sheriff’s deputies to augment the police force.

The number of civilians working in the department was not much talked about. But when San Francisco was compared to nine similar cities in terms of how many civilians worked in the department, it didn’t get high marks, noted the survey.

Police Chief Greg Suhr acknowledged as much Monday.

“We are very, very low in the San Francisco Police Department when it comes to the civilian staffing,” Suhr said at a hearing before the planning and land use committee on a resolution to increase The City’s police force.

The survey, which was requested by the resolution’s authors, found San Francisco’s civilian-to-sworn staff ratio “is fifth lowest of the peer group and below the peer average.”

It went on to list the ways civilianization can free up officers to do police work.

“A higher rate of civilianization would indicate that civilians provide more of these law enforcement support functions, freeing up sworn staff to focus on direct law enforcement activities,” noted the survey. “Police departments can also integrate civilian staff into patrol and investigations functions, representing a shift to a more thorough use of civilians and more effective use of sworn personnel for the work for which they are best suited.”

Suhr said his department hired some civilians recently and hopes to hire more in the future. But as the department has been pushing to bring its number of officers up to a healthy number, civilian hiring has not been a priority.

In all, the San Francisco Police Department has a staff of 2,784, of which 561 are civilians. Of the total staff, there are 2,124 sworn officers but only 1,802, including roughly 100 academy cadets, can can fully serve.

Chief Suhr said about 200 to 250 officers are on modified duty at any given time. That can include disciplinary, health and family reasons, among others.

Supervisors Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen requested the staffing survey of police, which was released last week. Using the requested survey as evidence, they introduced their resolution calling for the number of sworn officers to be raised from the mandated 1,971 to 2,200.

The controller’s survey compared The City’s police staffing with other cities of similar size and makeup, noting 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 other cities.

While the survey showed San Francisco’s violent crime rate per resident is 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.

The resolution, which will now go before the full board, was opposed by supervisors Jane Kim and John Avalos, both of whom support rebuilding police numbers but disagree with increasing the mandate. Both prefer using existing resources more wisely as well as taking a multiagency approach to crime reduction.

jlamb@sfexaminer.com

Jonah Owen Lamb
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Jonah Owen Lamb

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