Understaffed amid rising city congestion, San Francisco traffic cops are about to get a needed boost in their ranks.
On Monday the San Francisco Police Department kicked off its first solo motorcycle training class in three years, with 16 new trainees, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.
The class is required for officers hoping to join the SFPD Traffic Company, whose officers ride motorcycles across city streets to ticket scofflaw drivers and cyclists.
“The Traffic Company is below its optimal staffing level,” said SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Michael Andraychak. “Chief (Bill) Scott is committed to Vision Zero and committed to increasing staffing of the Traffic Company as Department staffing levels allow.”
The dearth of traffic cops has caused efforts to enforce The City’s Vision Zero mandate to bring traffic deaths to zero by 2024 to lag. Records reviewed by the Examiner show a sharp decrease in Vision Zero-related traffic citations, including speeding, issued by Traffic Company since 2017.
Those recruits are also coming just in time to help meet the challenge of rising city congestion, which is exacerbated by thousands of Uber and Lyft ride-hail vehicles coming to San Francisco from the Bay Area, according to a city study released last month.
Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Sandra Lee Fewer credit the boost in motorcycle-riding traffic cops to Scott, who met with them after a City Hall hearing on Traffic Company’s staffing woes in July. Fewer called for the hearing, which revealed only 37 traffic cops were in Traffic Company’s unit at the time, though the department said 80 was an optimum number to patrol The City.
“I hear a general feeling from residents I talk to that lots of our laws are not enforced,” Mandelman said. “I’m grateful to the chief for being responsive.”
Intersections across the neighborhoods Mandelman represents, from the Castro to the outer edge of the Mission, have seen traffic problems compound without enforcement, he said.
“Valencia is a traffic nightmare,” he said.
The poor enforcement is driven by a lack of officers, he said.
Perhaps the most shocking number revealed in the July City Hall hearing was eight. That is the number of traffic cops currently working on San Francisco streets at any one time, as first reported by the SF Weekly.
Candidates for the training classes come from SFPD patrol ranks and “typically” have eight or more years of patrol experience before they can join, Andraychak said.
City data shows a 20 percent drop in the number of citations issued by Traffic Company for the most dangerous driving behaviors, which SFPD has said it will target in order to save lives. This effort, called the “Focus on Five,” sees SFPD officers and Traffic Company ticketing drivers for speeding, red light running, stop sign running, violating a pedestrian’s right of way and not yielding while turning.
In 2017 about 70 percent of all citations Traffic Company issued were in Focus on Five categories, but by 2018 that percentage dropped to as low as roughly 35 percent of all citations.
SFPD met or only very nearly missed its Focus on Five ticketing goal consistently through most of 2017, but saw its numbers drop toward winter and into 2018. SFPD only met its Focus on Five ticketing goal during a single month in 2018: May.
Adding traffic company officers is key to saving lives, Fewer said, which is key as her neighborhood, the Inner Richmond, has seen “very serious” collisions and traffic-related deaths.
“I am a firm believer that when someone gets a ticket they think twice about their driving habits,” Fewer said.