Academy classes should be spared

Yes, when San Francisco must somehow balance a projected $338 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1, there will be budget cuts making some people extremely unhappy. And yes, it is much easier to cancel future hiring and future programs instead of getting rid of existing jobs and well-liked services — which is why city streets often are not repaired until they fall apart.

However, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick’s urging last week to cancel two upcoming police academy classes is something that should be considered last, not first. The City simply cannot afford to lose as many as 100 new officers for our violent streets.

San Francisco’s homicide rate is soaring. Our 98 killings in 2007 were the highest body count in a decade, up from 86 the year before. And now, almost halfway through 2008, the homicide tally is already 48, putting The City well on track toward breaking 100 by year-end.

This hardly seems the right time to slash two of the three 50-cadet academy classes scheduled for this summer and fall. The only class McGoldrick wants to spare includes 25 officers earmarked for San Francisco International Airport — which is paying $1.5 million for the training. This would bring no more than 25 additional field officers into the SFPD during coming months, which is nowhere near enough.

San Francisco officials and voters have been sending wildly mixed messages about what they want from their police. The Board of Supervisors last year mandated foot patrol minimums in eight of The City’s 10 police districts, following two years of brazen daylight homicides. And a direct voter initiative requires the Police Department to maintain a minimum of 1,971 sworn officers.

The foot-patrol mandate overrode vehement objections from police Chief Heather Fong</a> and Mayor Gavin Newsom, who argued that police assignments should only be made by department administrators. But the increased officer visibility has proven highly popular with the public.

As for the required minimum of 1,971 sworn officers, the department is now slightly above — with a total of 1,976, including current academy cadets and probationary officers in field training.

However, no fewer than 469 police veterans are eligible to retire in the next 12 months. To head off an obvious high risk of mass departures, voters in February passed a measure allowing retirement-eligible police to stay onthe job for up to three more years while accumulating money in a tax-deferred account.

So if The City is actually serious about fielding enough police to start reversing the homicide climb, it needs to hire, train and pay for additional officers — not look for easy budget cuts while rescuing less important programs that political insiders demand.

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