A few years removed from the social justice flashpoint of 2020, San Francisco is very much funding the police.
Staving off service cuts and a hiring freeze, supervisors approved a mid-year budget infusion of $25 million to fund police overtime on Tuesday.
After weeks of back-and-forth between Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors, a supermajority of the board ultimately approved her plan, which further bolsters a police budget that already received an influx of $57 million in additional funding less than a year ago.
Supervisors excoriated the mayor’s office on Tuesday, accusing it of allowing runaway spending — possibly in violation of city laws aimed at controlling overtime costs.
“SFPD needs oversight at this moment, needs it badly, and the last thing the department needs is another blank check,” said Supervisor Dean Preston.
Others fought back, accusing colleagues of focusing on the technicalities of administrative code instead of an officer shortage and calls for improved public safety.
“I think the public deserves and wants to feel safe in San Francisco, and the reality is they do not,” said Supervisor Catherine Stefani.
As they otherwise brace for an otherwise across-the-board belt tightening, city leaders have committed to significantly expanding spending on public safety.
Violent crime in San Francisco was down 14.3% in 2022 compared to 2019, according to a report issued by the Board of Supervisors’ budget and legislative analyst on Monday. Property crime is also down compared to 2019, as are emergency 911 calls by nearly 40%.
Still, San Franciscans have consistently said, both in opinion polls and via the ballot box, that public safety is a top concern. And The City’s reputation outside its borders has consistently suffered from viral incidents. A CNN reporter tweeted last week that her crew was robbed while she was at City Hall to conduct an interview; conservative outlets like the New York Post, Fox News and the National Review quickly picked up the story.
Breed’s proposal, and the supervisors’ approval, signal their acknowledgment of this political climate and residents’ demands.
Breed pressured supervisors ahead of the vote and cautioned that things in San Francisco would get much worse if her proposal wasn’t approved.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Breed explained that The City is “relying on police overtime to increase the number of officers responding to calls and serving in targeted operations.”
“That is why we had put forward an emergency funding proposal before the Board of Supervisors — to keep police officers we have working overtime to cover our basic safety needs,” Breed wrote.
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Supervisors scrutinized the proposals in a series of committee meetings, but ultimately heeded Breed’s warnings.
City leaders have long argued about the number of police officers San Francisco really needs, and Breed has committed to increasing hiring. And while that question certainly played a role in the debate leading up to Tuesday’s vote, frustrations were equally aired on the deployment of existing resources and the department’s ability to accurately budget.
Several supervisors have objected to what they view as the police department’s overemphasis on securing Union Square and other hotspots of tourism and retail — at the expense of residential neighborhoods they represent.
Stefani defended the downtown deployment of police resources.
“It’s not just to protect Louis Vuitton, it’s to protect San Franciscans,” she said.
Supervisors have also lamented The City’s inability to accurately project the use of overtime and community ambassadors, which spurred the emergency funding proposals approved on Tuesday.
The funding for police overtime was pulled from The City’s general fund reserves, and was necessary despite a department budget of $714 million this year, compared to the $668 million it spent in the 2020 budget before pledging to redirect police resources into other efforts.
Preston suggested that the department’s overtime spending — which exceeded the budgeted amount beginning in November, just a few months after the start of the fiscal year — violated city law. Departments overspending on overtime are required to receive Board of Supervisors approval for a budget supplemental.
“It’s beyond ironic that a department tasked with law enforcement would so blatantly violate a law,” Preston said.
Anna Duning, the mayor’s budget director, explained that the department was in a similar position last year, but avoided having to ask for emergency mid-year funding because enough officers retired to offset the costs of overtime.
“We wanted to make sure that the department was not coming to the Board of Supervisors to request and appropriate more money unless we were absolutely certain that that would be needed,” Duning said.
The proposal needed eight votes to pass, and won support from nine supervisors. Supervisors Preston and Shamann Walton voted against it.
The use of reserves to fund public safety is notable given that The City is facing a budget deficit of approximately $700 million over the next two years and could have to dip further into its coffers to make ends meet.
Breed has already issued budget instructions to her department heads asking them to plan for cuts over each of the next two years.