Opinion: The people – and especially the people of the Tenderloin – want to fund the police

Mayor Breed’s $7.9 million in emergency money to SFPD is not contentious. It’s a Band Aid

It’s the return of “defund the police.”

You’ll remember that the far left talking point turned out to be the worst slogan since the vacuum ad, “Nothing sucks like Electrolux.”

Although the “defund” promoters meant well, suggesting millions should be taken from police budgets to fund social programs, it turned into a negative. Conservatives hammered them, claiming they wanted to abolish police departments and allow crime to proliferate.

And at a time when people felt threatened by the pandemic, and freaked out by videos of brazen lawlessness, defunding the police began to sound like a terrible idea.

It should have been “reform the police.”

Now this confused debate is playing out again in San Francisco.

You will not be surprised to hear that COVID, among other factors like early retirements and proposed cuts to funding for police academy classes, have deeply impacted The City’s first responders, particularly the police and fire departments.

On Christmas Eve, Police Chief William Scott sent an urgent letter to Mayor London Breed. In it, he said that even before the pandemic, his department was 265 sworn officers short of the recommended level (2,171), and now, “We are now 481 officers short.”

In response, on Tuesday of this week, Breed introduced an $22.5 million Emergency Public Funding measure. That’s $14.6 million for the San Francisco Fire Department and $7.9 million for the cops.

The money is strictly a Band-Aid. It will be used to pay overtime hours to the existing forces. It isn’t going to be used to hire more officers. It is just to make sure there is enough to cover shifts — even if it means a lot of overtime.

The measure will have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors. And if you think it is going to be contentious, congratulations, you are now an official S.F. pundit.

First, the measure needs eight of 11 votes to pass, not a simple majority. And Breed is pushing the supes to do this as soon as possible, even asking them to waive the usual 30-day hold for legislation.

The early handicapping is that the funding for the fire department will sail through. But the police funding may have problems. Because, as we’ve heard, for some progressives police = bad.

You will also not be surprised to hear that this whole debate can all be condensed to the Tenderloin, the infuriating open-air drug market in the center of The City.

Breed’s Tenderloin emergency plan was passed by supervisors Dec. 24, but only after an argumentative 10-hour debate-athon. The problem is Breed said the quiet part out loud.

There are a lot of services and treatment in her plan, but she also called for police to confront and arrest drug dealers.

Ever since then, progressives have been taking shots at the program. District Attorney Chesa Boudin and others continue to say we can’t “arrest our way”out of a drug crisis.

And you can expect progressive supervisors like Dean Preston to continue to promote using police funds to set up more treatment and counseling programs.

But residents, like Adnan Alameri, who has lived and raised three children in the Tenderloin since 1993, is unimpressed. He is all for social programs to provide assistance to the homeless and addicted, but he says there already has been a lot of social outreach in the neighborhood, and “this is the worst it has ever been.”

“When you are talking about all the money that you’re going to spend on counseling and programs, well excuse me, but I have heard this crap before and nothing has been done except making it worse,” he says.

Rene Colorado, executive director of the Tenderloin Lower Polk Merchants Association, says he is “100% in favor” of social programs like the street ambassadors, who are an unarmed presence on the street, “but police are part of the solution.

“The ambassadors are not police. They are not going to arrest drug dealers. You can’t send health services to a drug dealer.”

Colorado reminds us that, although most have a general idea of how bad things are in the TL, the reality is still shocking,

He says a corner like Eddy and Polk will have as many as 20 dealers setting up shop. That’s one thriving drug market.

And with drug dealing comes violence and gunfire. Residents, especially those with children, are terrified.

“The immigrant families, through a translator, beg for more police,” he says.

And then there is the deadly toll of rampant drug overdoses.

Colorado often walks the streets with outreach workers. He said one benefit of Breed’s Tenderloin emergency plan is when he has to “call an ambulance, they show up right away.”

And how often is he finding someone unconscious on the street, needing a life-and-death intervention?

“Two or three times a week is a solid number,” he says. “But I’ve had weeks where it was all five days.”

Supervisor Catherine Stefani says she “can’t imagine people voting against” the financial measure.

“Fentanyl, heroin are causing more deaths than COVID, which we basically shut down our economy for,” she says. “We had over 700 overdose deaths in 2020 and close to 620 in 2021. And people don’t think we need to hold drug dealers accountable? I can’t comprehend that.”

And apparently neither can members of the public. A January 2022 poll from EMC Research of 500 “high propensity voters” in San Francisco found 74% “strongly” or “somewhat” support the emergency funding for police, leaving only 26% “strongly” or “somewhat” opposed.

You’d think what we need in these troubled times is an attempt to dial down the temperature a bit. Maybe get a sense of what the average person is feeling.

Or ask people in the deeply impacted Tenderloin what they think.

Colorado says he’s actually seeing some positive trends.

“One of the things I noticed is police actually making arrests of drug dealers,” he says. “I would not see that before. Also, when I am out walking around I run into the HOT (homeless outreach team) team and the crisis response team. And that’s beautiful to see.”

The point is to have those two approaches working together.

“This isn’t about we just need health services to solve everything,” he says. “Or we just need police to arrest everyone and solve everything. I mean, those extremes haven’t worked in the past 30-40 years.”

Just like defunding the police.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cwnevius@gmail.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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