San Francisco’s Police Commission unanimously rejected a budget proposal late Wednesday that called for laying off 11 percent of officers to help meet an anticipated $37 million loss in city funding.
The San Francisco Police Department based the proposed cuts on instructions from Mayor London Breed to prepare for a 7.5 percent reduction in general fund support because of the pandemic.
Police Chief Bill Scott said the department could not withstand any further cuts without laying off personnel. The SFPD already cancelled academy classes, closed all vacancies and lost overtime during the last budget cycle.
A 7.5 percent reduction would mean layoffs for 167 rookie officers as well as 43 civilian employees, Scott said. An additional 56 officers and 14 civilians would be let go if the economic situation worsened and SFPD lost another 2.5 percent or $12 million.
“I’m not supportive of these cuts,” Scott told the commission. “I think they’d be devastating to the Police Department.”
Scott argued that the proposed cuts would negatively impact public safety, with fewer officers assigned to district stations, as well as diversity efforts because civil service rules require the newest officers, who are largely people of color, be laid off first.
But the budget proposal met with criticism from members of the Police Commission, who described it as the “worst-case scenario” and questioned whether the department could trim the fat from elsewhere.
Commissioner Cindy Elias asked Scott to consider cutting high-paid members of his command staff, which he has beefed up in the name of supporting reform efforts, or redeploying them into the field.
“There has to be a better way of reallocating the resources we have without losing the diversity that we have been fighting for,” Elias said. “The answer can’t be ‘let’s just get rid of foot patrol.’”
But Scott said the department needed a robust command staff to complete and sustain the U.S. Department of Justice’s 272 recommendations for SFPD reform, as well as to prevent corruption.
“Departments that do have significant issues and corruption and those types of things, there is usually some type of either organizational structural issue or oversight issue,” Scott said.
Scott has promised to complete 94 percent of the recommendations for reform by the end of this spring.
Commissioner John Hamasaki pushed back when Scott said the proposal wasn’t “fearmongering.”
“Even if it wasn’t your intention, it certainly feels like that,” Hamasaki said.
Hamasaki disputed the notion that there is a correlation between low crime rates and having a fully staffed Police Department. While he did not call for layoffs, he suggested now might be the time to make the transition from officers to civilians responding to certain calls for service.
“There has to be a point where we start not just talking about reimagining public safety but actually implementing reimagining public safety,” Hamasaki said.
Scott said he supported such a transition but said officers are still needed to respond to those calls for service until a team of civilians is created and ready to respond.
Commission President Malia Cohen pointed out the proposal is based on the mayor’s budget instructions and doesn’t account for any stimulus funding that might come from the Biden Administration.
The Police Commission voted 4-0 to reject the budget proposal, with Commissioner Dion-Jay Brookter absent.
The SFPD is not expected to submit the proposal to the Mayor’s Office as a result of the vote, according to Catherine McGuire, executive director with the Strategic Management Bureau for the SFPD.
The mayor is instead expected to use an older version of the budget proposal from last year, but could still take into consideration SFPD’s proposal as well as the commission’s vote.
The mayor is scheduled to present her budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors by June 1 for further review and approval.