A San Francisco Police traffic control officer moves a car along outside Terminal 3 at San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Calls for more police patrols spur talk of replacing cops with deputies at SFO

A city supervisor is exploring whether San Francisco could increase the number of cops on the street by swapping out some of the police officers assigned to San Francisco International Airport with sheriff’s deputies.

Spurred by the high rate of property crimes in The City and widely publicized incidents of violence against the Chinese community, Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee is looking into freeing up more officers for patrol duty.

While Yee has not formally proposed replacing any of the officers who work at the airport with deputies, the supervisor has asked the Controller’s Office to examine the costs associated with making the switch.

“I do want to know all the options we have to quickly increase the number of police officers on active duty in our city,” Yee said in a statement Tuesday. “I’ve also asked the controller to look into the current police staffing at the airport because I think we should know how many officers we have on active duty, where they are being deployed, and the number of additional officers we might need to keep San Franciscans safe.”

The San Francisco Police Department has been in charge of security at SFO since 1997 and works alongside federal and local agencies to keep the airport safe. The department currently has 160 officers assigned to the Airport Bureau, according to a spokesperson for the department. There are roughly 2,000 officers on the entire force.

Yee is considering the idea as an option for boosting foot beats in The City without increasing funding for police, though his office said he would be willing to take on additional costs if necessary. Similarly, Yee has previously requested a citywide analysis of police staffing levels and encouraged the department to hire civilians instead of sworn officers when possible.

Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said he appreciated Yee paying attention to the need for more police officers, but argued the concept could end up costing The City more.

Montoya said the officers assigned to the airport are currently paid for with federal funds, and assigning them to roles in The City may have an adverse impact on the General Fund.

“Removing federally funded SF police officers from SFO and redeploying them to other parts of our city is not the answer,” Montoya said in a statement. “We need a permanent solution to recruit and retain enough qualified officers to restore safety in all of our neighborhoods and keep our airport safe as well. We need that solution now.”

Montoya said assignments to the Airport Bureau are the most sought after positions in the department.

While the airport is outside San Francisco County, the concept also touches on longstanding tensions between the SFPD and the Sheriff’s Department over who is in charge of patrol in The City.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has slowly been expanding its patrol duties and currently oversees the area around Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

Ken Lomba, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, said the union “would be happy to discuss taking on additional duties as needed.”

“We have a history of taking on additional law enforcement and patrol duties to increase public safety,” Lomba said.

Nancy Crowley, a spokesperson for Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, said the sheriff had not discussed the issue with others and declined to comment on her behalf.

“If there were any kind of situation that called for working together, we would work that out with the police,” Crowley said. “We would always work collaboratively. The sheriff and the chief have a very good relationship. She’s going to focus on her department and what she needs to do right now.”

When asked for comment from Police Chief Bill Scott, SFPD spokesperson David Stevenson said the department “has not been presented with any formal plan or suggestion.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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