Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who chairs the Budget and Appropriations Committee, said that despite repeated attempts to reduce the police budget, there are “tens of millions of dollars in increases” every year. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supes agree to cut $26M from police budget in academy classes, overtime

San Francisco police escaped layoffs but suffered deep cuts to academy classes and overtime spending Friday when a Board of Supervisors committee reached a compromise to slash an estimated $26 million from the police budget over two years.

The supervisors stopped short of a proposal from Supervisor Hillary Ronen to lay off officers, but agreed to cancel three of the four upcoming academy classes and reduce the overtime budget by 25 percent this fiscal year and 50 percent in the next, among other reductions.

“I have been trying to cut the police budget for many, many years and every year we have had tens of millions of dollars in increases,” said Supervisor Sandra Fewer, who chairs the Budget and Appropriations Committee. “This is kind of remarkable.”

The committee is scheduled to take a vote on the compromise by next Wednesday and decide how to spend the funds on other needs.

The agreement was reached in the context of nationwide calls to defund the police following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

The cuts are on top of Mayor London Breed’s proposed budget, which already called for redirecting $40 million annually from the San Francisco Police Department to the Black community over a two-year period.

The department has a budget of $692 million this fiscal year.

While Fewer sought to cancel all four classes and Supervisor Shamann Walton wanted to slash overtime by 75 percent this fiscal year, they compromised with Board of Supervisors Norman Yee and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who were not as eager to cut.

Ronen, meanwhile, supported the more extreme reductions and also sought a $6.7 million cut to the Healthy Streets Operations Center, Homeless Outreach Team and Mounted Unit this fiscal year.

“I am proposing that we should no longer have police deal with the unhoused population, unless of course there is crime,” Ronen said.

She acknowledged that the cuts would have resulted in officers being laid off.

“This is major, what I am proposing, and I have no illusions about that,” Ronen said. “But I think we have to do something significant so that we can then feel the pressure as a city and the urgency to reform.”

Ronen is not alone in wanting a trained group of specialists to respond to mental health calls for service instead of the police. Plans for that transition are underway, but Police Chief Bill Scott argued that The City is not yet ready to make the switch.

“For the 20,000 or so calls that are being dispatched to the Police Department, who is going to handle those calls and who are they going to be dispatched to?” Scott asked.

As it is, Scott said the HOT Team does not have the capacity to respond to the demand.

If there were layoffs, Scott warned he would have to let go the newest officers first, who happen to be largely people of color.

All the other supervisors on the committee opposed layoffs.

“If we were to lay off police officers, we would have a much much less racially diverse police force,” Fewer said.

Scott also cautioned the supervisors not to reduce the size of the police force or risk San Francisco sliding “backward” in terms of public safety and police reform.

He said doing so would have a “devastating” impact on officers responding to calls for service citywide.

A recent study based on calls for service data from before the pandemic found that the department needed to hire more than 200 officers to keep up with demand.

And the SFPD is losing officers to retirements and other departments at a rapid rate, having lost as many officers so far this year as in all of last year.

Also, Scott said the department needed to maintain a robust command staff to provide oversight for reforms. The department has completed 69 of the 272 recommendations for reform issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in late 2016.

He committed to completing another 100 to 110 in the next nine months by spring 2021.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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