Desk duty draining SF Police Department’s budget

The Police Department has been paying $5 million a year to officers confined to desk duty while their disciplinary cases were being resolved.

As the budget deficit for San Francisco grows, new police Chief George Gascón has made reforming the police disciplinary process a priority for the department not only so officers are held accountable, but to save money as well.

The city and county is facing a $522.2 million shortfall for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and Mayor Gavin Newsom has asked each department to identify 30 percent cuts.

One way Gascón is looking to save money is clearing out the backlog of disciplinary cases, allowing officers back on the streets or terminating them.

About 20 disciplinary cases have been settled in the past two months, but about 35 officers are still on desk duty. More than 50 officers, each pulling in at least $78,000 plus benefits, adds up to about $5 million a year.

“You multiply that for the last six years where we haven’t handled these cases, you’re looking at $25 [million] to $30 million in police salaries that have gone down the drain,” Gascón said.

The chief wants to have the power to fire problem officers instead of the lengthy disciplinary process in place now that can take years. That change would require approval by voters.

The Police Commission is working with Gascón on drafting the charter amendment, though some commissioners have expressed concern that allowing the police chief the authority to fire an officer may be going too far. Three officers have been terminated in the last decade.

The commission and its seven appointed members set policy and operating rules, along with handling most officer discipline cases. The last time the commission underwent significant change was in 2003.

Commissioners have discussed increasing the chief’s authority to hand out suspensions of more than 10 days, which is the strictest punishment that can be doled out without oversight. It is a solution recommended by the Police Effectiveness Review, a yearlong study of the department’s policies and practices that was released this year.

The union representing The City’s 2,000 or so police officers is supportive of reforming the system. Gary Delagnes, head of the Police Officer’s Association, called the current process dysfunctional.

“To be squandering $5 million in productivity a year because of a discipline process that doesn’t work is ridiculous.” Delagnes said. “If cops need to be terminated, they should be terminated, and they shouldn’t be sitting around for five years drawing a check waiting to be terminated.”

Gascón is working to have the charter amendment approved by Dec. 15 in time to put it on the June ballot.

Police closer to community

San Francisco residents may be meeting their neighborhood police investigators.

Eight to 10 investigators started working at each of the 10 district stations over the weekend. They will investigate crimes, such as burglary and assault, within the district boundaries. Homicide inspectors, however, will still work out of police headquarters at 850 Bryant St.

Police Chief George Gascón’s reorganization of the department involves command staff, captains, lieutenants and inspectors and is the first major realignment of bureaus, units and other subdivisions of the department in decades.

It was the major recommendation of a blue-ribbon panel brought on in 2006 to analyze the department. The report, from the Police Effectiveness Review board, called for investigators to become “specialists,” for sergeants to start investigating crimes and to create a police investigations aide position.

Gascón calls the reorganization a significant move expected to increase the department’s crime-solving abilities and overall efficiency and effectiveness. The decentralization is meant to get investigators closer to the community. It is a lot of change for a department steeped in tradition, but Gascón said officers are handling the changes well.

“People, obviously, are apprehensive,” he said. “New things are always unsettling, but I think people are very excited about moving on to the next phase.”

— Brent Begin

Down the drain

Police officers awaiting the review of their disciplinary cases are costing the department about $5 million per year.

3: Officers terminated in the past 10 years

20: Cases settled since Chief George Gascón started

33: Officers on desk duty waiting for disciplinary case

$78,868: Starting salary for an SFPD officer, not including benefits

$6 million: Projected cuts to SFPD during mid-year reductions

$522.2 million: Projected city deficit for 2010

Source: SFPD

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