Gascon pitches civilian police help in Harvard paper

Bringing on civilians and volunteers to do police work is one of the only ways to prevent rising police salaries and benefits from bankrupting cities, police Chief George Gascón argues in a paper published last week.

Gascón had been writing the paper with Harvard researcher Todd Foglesong for months. It was published by a U.S. Department of Justice project that is attempting to shape the future of law enforcement.

While not mentioning San Francisco by name, the paper appears as a blueprint for how Gascón is making changes in The City. He already instituted the crime-statistic-gathering unit known as CompStat. He cut police overtime and recently budgeted 15 positions at the Department for “civilian investigators.”

Like Mesa, Ariz., where Gascón was previously chief until August 2009, police costs have nearly doubled in the last decade in San Francisco.

Taxpayer funding for the Police Department has gone from $273 million to $445 million since 2001 while The City’s total budget has only increased by 20 percent in the same period. The major driver of those costs are the salaries and benefits of sworn police officers.

Multiple raises for police officers and firefighters during Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration have made The City’s public safety workers the highest paid out of any big city in California, a city audit recently found.

Gascón argues that the use of civilians and volunteers known as reserve police officers to interview victims of crime is the only way to stop the escalating employee costs, but he is running into opposition from the Police Officers Association.

“He thinks that there are hundreds of tasks that can be completed by civilian employees,” said police union President Gary Delagnes. “I understand that concept. I simply don’t agree with it. When people call for police services, they want to see a cop.”

Ballooning budgets

Policing costs have skyrocketed in the past decade for many cities, including the two where George Gascón has been police chief.

Mesa, Ariz.

1998 police budget: $87 million
2008 police budget: $161 million

San Francisco

2001 police budget: $273 million
2011 police budget:</b> $445 million

Source: New Perspectives in Policing, S.F. budget

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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