Some critics are questioning San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott’s addition of staff, particularly due to budget concerns related to the pandemic. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Is the San Francisco Police Department ‘top heavy’?

Supervisors eye command staff for possible cuts amid calls to ‘defund the police’

In one of his first acts as San Francisco’s top cop, Police Chief Bill Scott expanded his command staff to include five new positions for assistant chiefs and commanders in early 2017.

At the time, Scott argued that the new structure would put the San Francisco Police Department in the best position to reform itself with the help of the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The talented members of our command staff reflect the diversity of our department and will be instrumental in ensuring that we meet our mission to complete these reforms,” Scott said.

Three years later, the chief has continued to grow his leadership structure in the name of reform, having since added four new civilian positions to his command staff.

“Those positions significantly support our reform effort,” Scott said at a July 8 hearing on the police budget. “Reform and sustainability really boils down to infrastructure.”

But by many accounts, the SFPD’s reform initiative has fallen short of expectations.

While officers have stopped shooting people as frequently as before, the department has only completed 22 percent of the 272 recommendations for reform from the U.S. DOJ as of June 3.

Now, city supervisors are considering trimming his command staff as calls mount to “defund the police” during an economic downturn fueled by the coronavirus.

The department currently spends $5.7 million of its $692 million budget on salaries for the command staff, including $1.6 million on civilian directors.

When benefits are included, those salary figures jump to nearly $8 million overall including $1.9 million for civilian directors, according to numbers provided by the department.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer was among those who identified the command staff as a possible area for cuts at the recent hearing.

“Your command staff in 2017, when we had a $12 billion budget, might have been OK, but right now we are not there,” Fewer said. “We are in 2020, with a $1.5 or $1.7 billion deficit.”

Scott’s assistant chiefs, Robert Moser and Michael Redmond, each make over $315,000 a year before benefits in positions that did not exist under former Chief Greg Suhr.

Among the four new civilian hires is Catherine McGuire, who is earning more than $226,000 a year as the executive director of strategic management in charge of reforms.

The most recent civilian hire is LaWanna Preston, a former negotiator with the Department of Human Resources who was hired on as director of labor relations at $199,030.

The hope is that Preston will streamline the lengthy meet-and-confer process with the San Francisco Police Officers Association, which has been criticized for stalling reforms.

The other two new civilian positions are for a director of crime strategies, Tiffany Sutton, and a director of policy and government affairs, Diana Oliva-Aroche.

Sutton is a former assistant district attorney who is paid $185,432 a year, and Oliva-Aroche is a former advisor to the late Mayor Ed Lee on violence prevention who now earns $199,030.

Oliva-Aroche was hired as an ambassador for the department to the Board of Supervisors.

Meanwhile, Scott’s eight commanders — three of whom hold newly opened positions — each bring in an annual salary of $248,040.

Scott himself is reportedly among the highest paid police chiefs in the nation. He earned $342,758 this year.

The chief has inflated his command staff despite the number of officers on the force remaining relatively consistent since his tenure began.

“It does feel a little top heavy to me,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen said at the recent hearing.

But Scott said an independent consultant recently found that his command staff was “on par” or “in some cases smaller” than other departments of similar size.

There is also precedent for the SFPD having assistant chiefs. The position existed as recently as 2011 under former Chief George Gascon.

A graph from a July 2, 2020 Budget and Legislative Analyst report shows increases in the SFPD’s sworn command staff since 2010-11. Courtesy BLA

Exactly what will be cut from the police budget will be determined in the coming weeks.

Breed is expected to submit a proposed budget by Aug. 1 for the Board of Supervisors to review and approve.

She has previously committed to redirect funds from the Police Department budget to the Black community.

This story has been updated to correct that Oliva-Aroche is a former advisor to Lee, not Mayor London Breed.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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