Chief unveils S.F. foot patrol plan

The day before a pivotal vote on police staffing legislation that has pitted the Board of Supervisors against the Mayor and the Police Department, police Chief Heather Fong announced Monday that more officers will walk foot beats in San Francisco.

The issue of mandated police foot patrols has become one of the hottest political fights of the year. Resisting efforts of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to dictate policing policy, Fong announced that 44 officers will walk foot beats starting Nov. 24.

Saying he was frustrated by inaction on the part of the mayor and the Police Department in the face of a skyrocketing violent crime rate, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced legislation in June that mandates minimum staffing levels for patrols in his district — a high crime area. Since then, the ordinance has been expanded to eight police districts as more supervisors signed on.

The Police Department’s move comes as the Board of Supervisors prepares to vote today on whether to override Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Nov. 3 veto of the bill, which the board passed 7-3 last month.

Fong announced Monday that, with eight positions held by officers being civilianized and 36 new recruits who recently completed training, the department finally has personnel to dedicate to foot patrols.

“While I certainly applaud solidifying any foot-and-beat patrol effort, the timing [of the department’s announcement] is suspect because we have been asking the mayor and the department to act on this for a year and a half now. They never did,” Mirkarimi said after the announcement Monday.

Even though the department’s newly planned deployment of officers brings it into compliance with the terms of the proposed legislation, Fong said she did not think the legislation was appropriate.

“Legislation that says you have to walk here, when potentially a problem moves elsewhere, requires that we stay in one place,” she said. Captains need to have the discretion in order to staff beats effectively, Fong said.

But Mirkarimi said the bill gives captains that discretion. While it does list streets on which officers are to walk in Park and Northern districts, it notes that those streets are merely suggestions to describe the neighborhoods in which they are to walk. In the Tenderloin, Mission, Ingleside, Taraval, Southern and Bayview districts, no streets are specified for officers to walk.

At Monday’s news conference, Fong said that if there is a conflict between the beats staffed by the captains and those outlined in the law, she would favor the captains.

“I’m not saying we won’t comply. I think the captains have to do an analysis, and then, hopefully, we can explain the reasons certain decisions should be made,” Fong said.

Mirkarimi said he supported giving captains the discretion to staff the patrols, but, “there needs to be some accountability built in.”

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