Having police officers walk the beat to deter street crimes like car break-ins and ease tensions with the community is not a novel idea.
The strategy has been used for years, particularly in neighborhoods of color where bilingual officers are needed to ensure victims report crimes.
But for Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents two of the areas hardest hit by drug dealing and other crimes, the Tenderloin and South of Market, foot patrols have been “under-prioritized, inadequate and inconsistent.”
“Too often, the foot beat officers are redeployed without notice over the objections of residents and businesses, leaving many of us frustrated and disappointed, and negatively impacting public safety,” Haney said.
Now, Haney has joined Supervisor Shamann Walton in proposing a ballot measure that would set requirements for foot patrols not only in their neighborhoods but at each of the 10 district stations in San Francisco.
“We don’t have anything, any laws on the books right now that require foot patrols,” said Walton, who represents the Bayview. “It is very important that we have real community policing strategies to keep our people safe.”
Under the proposal, the Police Department would be required to create a Neighborhood Safety Unit at each station focused on community policing. The Police Commission and chief would also have to come up with a “foot patrol strategy” and map out beats in areas where they are needed.
While the proposal would not mandate a specific number of foot beat officers at any station, the chief would have to request a proposed budget for each unit annually and regularly report out data on staffing levels and crime trends.
Haney and Walton introduced the proposal at the Board of Supervisors this week. It would need six votes on the board to be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Critics have raised concerns about the proposal interfering with police business.
“These supervisors should stop micromanaging the Police Department and start focusing on rebuilding our depleted department,” said Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
“Increasing the number of officers on the street would reduce 911 response times and allow the department to expand foot patrols where needed,” Montoya added. “That is what the supervisors should focus on.”
A spokesperson for Chief Bill Scott would not comment on the proposal.
But Walton argued that the proposal would not restrict the chief’s ability to deploy officers as needed since it does not require stations to assign a certain number of foot beat officers.
“We were very cognizant and conscious of not tying the chief’s hands to specific numbers and we allow for that flexibility, but we are also very intentional about making sure and ensuring that community policing, foot patrols exist across San Francisco,” Walton said.
The proposal is one of two measures headed for the November ballot that deal with police staffing. Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee has also proposed a measure to require a data-driven approach for calculating staffing.
While San Francisco has been required to have at least 1,971 sworn officers since voters approved the minimum staffing level in 1994, a recent report recommended that the department calculate staffing based on workload and assign officers to each station based in part on the number of calls for service in a district.
Using that methodology, the study found that the department should increase the number of sworn positions from 1,911 at present to 2,176.
The report also offered a methodology for establishing foot beats based on pedestrian traffic, and identified 23 potential areas, but did not take into consideration community input.
Yee’s proposed measure would not require the chief to use the framework laid out in the study, but only to analyze staffing levels and make recommendations every other year.
The proposal would also remove the number from the City Charter that required at minimum 1,971 officers on the force.
Matt Dorsey, a spokesperson for Scott, said the chief has “serious concerns” about that figure being eliminated and would like to keep a minimum staffing number in the City Charter.
“Because the recent staffing report concluded that the department needs 2,176 officers, Chief Scott’s view is that if we’re going to rely on a methodology, we should rely on it and maintain language in the Charter that addresses a minimum staffing number,” Dorsey said.
Haney and Walton announced their proposed ballot measure at a virtual press conference Friday alongside community leaders and Police Commission members Cindy Elias, John Hamasaki and Dion-Jay Brookter. Longtime Police Commissioner Petra De Jesus is also a supporter.
“Just being able to gather hard data and requiring regular reporting,” Brookter said, “it helps promote transparency not only to the commission but to the public.”
Hamasaki said increasing community policing was among the key goals of the recommendations for reform that came out of the Obama-era U.S. Department of Justice in 2016.
“It doesn’t build relationships when you just see a police car driving down the street,” Hamasaki said. “You need to get out of the car, you need to be on the street.”
“Doing all of that not only helps us all stay safer but it decreases a lot of the tension that has been created between communities and police historically,” he added.
Christin Evans, the owner of Booksmith on Haight Street and president of the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association, said having foot beat officers helps ensure police respond adequately.
“Having officers that really know everyone in the community helps to prevent overreaction,” Evans said, commenting on the rapport some officers have built with her homeless neighbors. “We don’t have six different patrol vehicles responding to a situation that does not require it.”
This story has been updated to include additional comment and details.