Cop shortage might reverse crime gains

SF Examiner file photoThe City's police chief says his department is facing the possible loss of 400 officers by the end of 2015.

As budget season warms up, police Chief Greg Suhr is warning that The City’s low homicide rate could grow if more officers are not put on the streets.

The Police Department’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year has increased to $480 million, Suhr told the Board of Supervisors budget committee last week. Nearly 90 percent of that is pre-negotiated pay, he said.

“The big issue for us is going to be staffing,” Suhr said. The department is currently down 200 officers from the City Charter-mandated 1,971, and with a surge in retirements and no new police academy classes, “It’s only going to keep going down,” he said.

Staffing at police stations is down 10 percent, Suhr said, and  the department could lose about 400 officers by the end of 2015.

While Suhr acknowledged that police staffing was not the only factor in reducing violent crime, he said other cities that have lost officers have seen increases in violence. Officers “aren’t out there to do the front-end work, working with kids, spending that extra time doing community policing,” he said.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when we’ve been over 1,900 officers, we’ve been at record lows for homicides,” Suhr said.

The department is expected to graduate one new academy class in June, which could bring several dozen officers onboard.

But Suhr is hoping The City can find money for five academy classes in the next fiscal year, three the following year and two each year after that just to get back to full staffing.The classes each cost an estimated $5 million to $8 million.

Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes said the union might consider cutting salaries for new officers by 5 to 6 percent.

aburack@sfexaminer.com