In 1994, San Francisco voters approved a measure requiring The City to have at least 1,971 sworn officers.
Decades later, city officials and the department, which is still operating below the mandated level but working to catch up, are asking how many officers San Francisco really needs.
To that end, the City Controller’s Office plans to issue a staffing analysis related to response to service calls next month. The Budget and Legislative Analyst is expected to follow with a separate staffing analysis. A special police staffing task force and a consultant is also in the works — though Supervisor Norman Yee would have liked to have seen it set up earlier. His resolution calling for the task force was approved a year ago.
The question is perhaps more pressing at the moment as the department is implementing Department of Justice reforms, will soon become equipped with Tasers, is working to address an increase in auto break-ins and is negotiating a labor contract with the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
And The City is heading into a new fiscal year, when Mayor Mark Farrell will introduce a budget proposal by June 1 for the Board of Supervisors to review and adopt. The Police Department has submitted a budget proposal totalling $631 million, up from the current fiscal year’s $588 million, which funds the same level of officers in the current fiscal year — although the Mayor’s Office is discussing increasing the budget proposal to have the department exceed 1,971 officers.
Police staffing has long been a point of political contention in San Francisco amid competing priorities. Traditionally, The City’s moderate faction favors increased police spending, while the progressive faction tempers spending on cops against other needs like social services.
What’s different this year are that several studies are underway to determine the right size for the department.
The Police Department currently has on the payroll “approximately 2,381 sworn. That’s total,” Police Chief Bill Scott told the board’s Budget and Finance Committee Thursday in a first look at the budget proposal.
Scott said that there is “a difference between the number of officers on the payroll and the number of officers that are actually full-duty, deployable.” Officers can, for example, be on modified duty, and wouldn’t be counted toward the charter-mandated number.
“Right now we are at 1,898 full duty employees. We are projected to be by June at 1,953. And that’s based on who is in the academy, the graduation rate, and the like,” he said. That would put the department at 18 officers shy of hitting the 1,971 number.
Scott said he expected to discuss staffing with the budget committee at a hearing next month, based on analysis from the ongoing studies.
Yee questioned the late start to forming the task force, which the resolution called for to determine “the best methodology for establishing staffing levels.”
“It seems a little bit behind schedule,” said Yee, who had wanted the task force work to inform funding decisions over next year’s budget.
Catherine McGuire, the Police Department’s director of finance, said “the intent is to submit a letter to the [Police] commission and to [Yee] this week that will outline the membership of the [task force] and will also give an overview of the approach.”
Scott said he was committed to establishing the task force. “We do have a sense of urgency with this,” Scott said.