In August, Mayor London Breed and traffic safety watchers blasted San Francisco police for a precipitous drop in traffic tickets around dangerous driving behaviors, a specific SFPD ticketing goal.
On Tuesday, police finally explained exactly why they’re issuing 20,000 fewer traffic tickets annually against speedsters and other dangerous drivers.
The problem? Paperwork.
That’s according to Cmdr. Daniel Perea, head of SFPD’s Municipal Transportation Agency division, who addressed the Board of Supervisors at a San Francisco County Transportation Authority board meeting Tuesday morning.
The number of traffic tickets issued by SFPD as part of the “Focus on the Five” initiative to target speeding, red-light running, running stop signs, failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, and failing to yield while turning decreased by half from 2015 to 2018, from 41,000 to 20,154, according to city data, which was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Those are the illegal driving behaviors known by public health officials to most often lead to injury or death on the road. Ticketing against those behaviors is a specific goal of SFPD — but police policy only requires that 50 percent of all tickets issued focus on those violations, not that they must issue any specific number.
“Especially in SoMa, I see flagrant disregard for traffic laws as people do anything they can to get on the freeway,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who convened the hearing. “We know where the dangerous spots are, we’ve known for a long time, yet we don’t have enforcement to match the need.”
Perea explained there are far more burdens on police officers making traffic stops than there were in previous years.
“There are some things that are different in the circumstances … and what we’re required to do,” Perea said.
He told Haney and the supervisors that in 2015, police didn’t have to worry about body-worn cameras, nor did they have to complete the “additional paperwork that we’re required to complete for every traffic stop” so police can collect data about who they’re pulling over.
“There’s a lot of other administrative work that’s required,” Perea said.
Officers also switched from writing traffic tickets on a paper notebook to an all-digital cellphone system.
“It’s a smaller device. It took training,” Perea said. He said some officers are taking “longer” to learn that new system.
Ultimately, “the process of completing a traffic stop takes a little bit longer than it did when we had those numbers previously,” Perea said. All of these additional requirements since 2015 “require resources and personnel hours,” he added.
The Board of Supervisors did not seem convinced by Perea’s argument. Supervisors Sandra Fewer and Catherine Stefani peppered Perea with follow-up questions, attempting to ascertain what additional funding could help the police do their jobs.
Perea did not point out any immediate avenues with which to do so, much to the frustration of the supervisors. Haney also said he needed to hear more.
“It’s a wild wild west, there are more and more cars on the streets every day,” Haney said. “I haven’t gotten any answers from SFPD or (the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) as to why citations have declined so dramatically.”
Haney added, “Body cameras are not an adequate explanation as to why the number of citations are down to less than 50 percent of where they were four years ago. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy group, noted that traffic fatalities are on par with gun violence in San Francisco — with more than 20 deaths in each category annually.
“SFPD must overcome their technological challenges and invest the time required to issue citations,” said Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk SF. Enforcement is critical to reducing dangerous driver behavior and saving lives.”
Roughly 600 people each year are severely injured in traffic crashes, according to the Department of Public Health. In 2019, fifteen people have been killed while walking and biking on San Francisco streets. The majority of pedestrians killed were walking in the crosswalk when hit.
Half of all of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s annual trauma patients were hospitalized due to traffic collisions, according to city officials.