Examiner Editorial: New roadmap for fixing SFPD

It gives us no pleasure to repeatedly call for major changes throughout the structure of the San Francisco Police Department in order to roll back The City’s unacceptably high rate of violent crime. It is frustrating that our crime numbers either go up or hold steady, while New York City and other major urban centers have dramatically reduced street crimes by adopting new tools and strategies.

At least one new cause for hope has arrived. The Examiner obtained a draft of the report by Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum, law-enforcement experts hired last year to study how to improve department operations. The report does more than insist that only a sweeping organizational overhaul of the department can make it more effective. It also points out the priority changes needed to place more officers in the field, help district stations fight neighborhood crime and enable the investigations bureau to solve more killings.

Despite voters endorsing more civilians being hired to replace sworn officers on desk jobs, fewer than 60 civil positions have been added to the Police Department in the past four years. The report recommends hiring another 250 civilians so officers can “spend more time on the street tracking down leads.”

The consultants called for the 10 police district stations to focus more on neighborhood sources of repeat calls by reorganizing around community policing units headed by a lieutenant, with a crime analyst, problem-solving teams, school resource officers, housing and parks patrol officers and local foot beats.

To improve the currently low rate in solving homicide cases, the report recommended more organized structure for the investigations bureau, with specialized focus of divisions and subdivisions. And a much more aggressive approach to property crimes such as auto theft was urged.

An average of 17 cars per day are stolen in San Francisco, for a total of 6,337 vehicles in 2007. The study recommended a proactive auto unit going on the offensive against car thieves with tactics including setting out bait vehicles at car-theft locations identified via analysis of trends and of repeat offenders.

Another suggestion was that San Francisco’s police chief should be a contracted position like most city-department heads. “It is difficult for a police department to undergo long-term significant change when questions concerning a chief’s tenure are raised constantly,” the report read. “A five-year contract with renewal possibility offers the needed stability, but also ensures that the chief is responsive to the needs of the city’s residents.”

With a decade-high homicide count of 98 killings in 2007, another 81 homicides so far this year and the eight recent Mission district slayings, clearly something drastic must be done. And this new report looks like a good road map for starting to fix the problem.

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