Examiner editorial: Marooning cops on desk jobs wastes $5M

At a time when San Francisco is struggling with a $522.2 million deficit for next fiscal year — with more of the same ahead — no excuse is acceptable for throwing away $5 million a year on bureaucratic inertia. But that is exactly what has been happening with our high-priority Police Department budget.

The Police Commission has accumulated dozens of unresolved disciplinary cases that maroon officers on desk duty for as long as five years without any conclusion. Under present rules, only the commission — consisting of seven part-time appointees with a minimal support staff — can pass judgment on most disciplinary charges. The police chief cannot impose unpaid suspensions longer than 10 days.

This grotesquely dysfunctional system delays wrongly accused officers from clearing their names and getting back out on the streets, where they are so badly needed. And it retains unfit officers on full salary much longer than makes sense.

Throughout the past six years, an average of 50 officers or more have been on desk duty while their disciplinary cases languish before the Police Commission. Starting pay for an SFPD officer is $78,000 plus benefits, so it is easy to see how the waste adds up to roughly $5 million a year — a six-year total of $25 million to $30 million in poorly spent police salaries.

Especially now, The City cannot afford to continue this. Mayor Gavin Newsom is asking every municipal department for 30 percent budget cuts. For the SFPD, that is about $6 million — which could be mostly balanced with money presently thrown away on cops stuck behind desks.

At this time, about 35 officers are currently on desk duty while their disciplinary cases await resolution by the Police Commission. The only reason there aren’t almost one-third more is because police Chief George Gascón pushed to settle some 20 disciplinary cases in the past two months.

In his first year on the job, Gascón is making reform of the police discipline process a top priority. He wants power to fire problem officers without the lengthy commission delays that can take years. And he wants to be able to give warnings for minor cases such as using foul language during arrests.

Any such changes require voter approval, and the Police Commission is working with Gascón to draft a charter amendment for filing by Dec. 15 so it can go on the June ballot. Some commissioners are hesitant about the police chief having authority to fire an officer. But even the head of the Police Officers Association, Gary Delagnes, sides with Gascón.

“If cops need to be terminated, they should be terminated, and they shouldn’t be sitting around for five years drawing a check,” Delagnes said. “Squandering $5 million in productivity a year … is ridiculous.”

The Examiner couldn’t agree more.

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