Police Commission debates policy on foot patrols

Department’s orders for walking beats may end up mirroring pending legislation

As political and community pressure continues for the placement of more police officers on foot patrols in high-crime areas, the civilian body that oversees the San Francisco Police Department began working on establishing a new policy to address the issue.

Almost three years into continuous record-breaking homicide rates, to which community policing was identified as a possible solution, the San Francisco Police Commission discussed Wednesday a first draft of a general order outlining a new department policy specifically emphasizing foot beat patrols.

The draft of the order calls for the increased use of foot patrols, and defines the duties of officers and supervisors involved in those patrols.

The draft identifies foot beats as “the heart of community policing,” commission secretary Louise Renne said during the commission’s meeting. It identifies 18 officers who will become available between October and December to take on extra foot patrols, and calls for increased use of foot patrols in high-crime areas.

The City’s homicide rate has risen dramatically in recent years, with 88 homicides recorded in 2004 and 96 in 2005 — a 10-year high. This year, 70 homicides have taken place. At this time last year, 60 had been recorded.

The issue of mandated foot beats has been making waves in City Hall since Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced legislation last spring that would mandate staffing of foot patrols in his district. District Five, which Mirkarimi represents, has seen an increase in gun violence and homicides over two years.

Since introduction of that bill, six police stations have been added to the original two.

The latest inception of Mirkarimi’s legislation calls for at least one officer staffing two of three foot beats per day at Park, Northern, Tenderloin, Mission, Ingleside, Taraval, Southern and Bayview stations. Since safety concerns prohibit officers patrolling alone on foot, that means the ordinance would require staffing 32 shifts per day.

According to the drafted police department order, the department has identified 40 foot beats currently in existence in police districts citywide, but there is no mandate for how often they are staffed.

Chief Heather Fong has said that while she supports foot patrols, the mandated staffing in the proposed legislation would hinder response times to emergency calls because officers would have to be pulled from patrol cars to staff foot beats.

At the meeting, Deputy Chief David Shinn re-iterated those concerns to the commission, but faced opposition. “We are in favor of foot patrols, but not at the expense of response time,” Shinn said.

But Commissioner David Campos pointed out that, if the foot patrols are as effective as lawmakers hope, there may be fewer calls for service in the first place.

“It seems to me that this is going to happen one way or another,” Commissioner Teresa Sparks said. “We need to be talking about how we’re going to do this.”

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