A top-to-bottom overhaul of the Police Department is required to make the agency more efficient in halting murders and cracking down on low-level offenses such as car thefts and pickpockets, according to a draft report obtained by The Examiner.
As The City struggles to reduce the number of killings and low-level offenses plaguing neighborhoods, the report says the Police Department should undergo a “substantial organization change” that would put more officers in the field, improve district stations’ response to neighborhood crime and help the investigations bureau solve more homicides.
The draft report was conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum, a group of national law-enforcement experts, hired last year to examine and improve operations as criticism of the department mounted amid the rising tide of violence.
The City’s homicide count reached a decade high of 96 killings in 2005, and two years later in 2007, the Police Department recorded 98 killings. This year, with 81 homicides recorded to date and, most recently, an eruption of violence in the Mission district, police critics are reinvigorated and demanding change.
Criticism has included failing to adequately counter violent crime, an inability to nab killers and lackluster community-policing. The report contains recommendations on how the department can improve in these areas and others.
The City’s 10 police district stations should undergo significant changes, the report says, including the addition of a community-policing unit headed by a lieutenant.
“The districts have lacked, at times, the concentrated and coordinated resources to effectively address” crime and the unit should focus “on repeat calls for service and strategies to reduce crime through community engagement,” the report says. “The unit should include a crime analyst, problem solving teams, school resource officers, housing and parks patrol officers and the district’s foot beat officers.”
Sworn officers are wasting time on tasks that the department could hire civilians to perform, such as computer searches and case file preparations, according to the report. It recommends hiring an additional 250 civilians, freeing officers to “spend more time on the street tracking down leads.”
Although voters supported the civilianization of police positions, and Mayor Gavin Newsom and Chief Heather Fong promised to move forward with the plan, fewer than 60 civil positions have been added to the Police Department in four years.
The report recommends restructuring the investigations bureau, which handles homicide cases, to improve case-solving rates. The bureau needs more narrowly focused divisions and subdivisions.
The department also needs a more aggressive approach to property crimes, such as auto theft. Last year, 6,337 cars were stolen in San Francisco, an average of 17 per day. The report recommends an auto unit using proactive tactics, such as the analysis of car-theft locations to identify trends, the study of repeat offenders and the use of a bait vehicle.
A final report is expected to come out in early December.
Should top cop be contract position?
San Francisco’s top cop should be a contracted position, rather than an appointed position, if the department is to undergo a major overhaul, a city-hired consultant suggests.
“It is difficult for a police department to undergo long-term significant change when questions concerning a chief’s tenure are raised constantly,” the consultant report says.
City Hall insiders and political watchers have long offered guesses of when, not if, Mayor Gavin Newsom will remove police Chief Heather Fong as top cop. The first female police chief has been criticized for her lack of public persona and plummeting police morale amid an increasing homicide rate. Fong was appointed as acting chief in January 2004, and chief on April 14, 2004. Currently, the mayor has the power to hire or fire the chief.
The report recommends The City examine having a police chief contracted for five years.
“A large-city police department undergoing major reform and change needs stable, consistent leadership,” the report says. “A five-year contract with renewal possibility offers the needed stability, but also ensures that the chief is responsive to the needs of the city’s residents.”
— Joshua Sabatini