San Francisco Chronicle
Breed’s police overtime push passes first hurdle
San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s push to spend $25 million on police overtime will head to the Board of Supervisors next week after a committee Wednesday unanimously gave it the green light, though not without heated debate.
Supervisor Connie Chan successfully introduced an amendment, proposed by the mayor’s office, to bring down the original request by $2 million after the department was able to save money in non-personnel costs.
Breed needs eight votes from the full board to spend the money on top of the department’s $714 million budget this fiscal year. If the votes hold, the spending is expected to win support at the full board next week. The mayor has said that without the overtime funding, the department will not be able to maintain current staffing levels on the streets because it’s struggling to fill vacant officer positions.
Besides Chan, the committee includes Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Ahsha Safaí, Shamann Walton and Hillary Ronen.
Ronen, although she voted yes, slammed the police chief and mayor’s office for spending so much overtime on a “Safe Shopper” program focused on deterring retail theft and making downtown safer. Ronen said she has been begging for officers in the Mission and was furious to learn that cops were prioritized downtown. She demanded evening police presence in the Mission and biweekly reports that show how police are spending the overtime money by neighborhood.
Walton was the only supervisor to not support Chan’s amendment to reduce the amount of spending. He proposed reducing overtime spending by $8 million to set up an office of reparations following a hearing Tuesday on how to remedy historical harms against Black San Franciscans, but his colleagues did not take the matter up for a vote.
Although Walton agreed to forward Breed’s proposal to the full board, he argued that spending another $25 million on police overtime “will be condoning excessive overtime without outcomes.” He also criticized downtown investment when the Bayview station in his district saw the highest numbers of homicides last year, which Chief Bill Scott said police were addressing.
“Is retail life worth more than human life?” Walton asked Scott, who answered “absolutely not.”
Scott responded to criticism that theft is the city’s highest reported crime and pushed back that the initiative is not “about protecting a $1,000 purse,” but addressing crimes with victims, such as robberies and assaults, and protecting workers who fear for their safety.
“Stabilizing the downtown core of the city is a priority for the administration, and it’s a priority for this police department, and it’s not just about Versace or any other stores, this is a much bigger issue than that,” he said.
Chan said that supervisors from the west side to the Mission are saying that they want police officers in their districts because they’re hearing from their constituents that they feel unsafe, but called the overtime proposal “a mismanagement of city government and city dollars.”
The measure appears likely to pass the full board next week. Five other supervisors told The Chronicle they will vote yes. Supervisor Dean Preston plans to vote no and has proposed spending $10 million on non-police alternatives for public safety.
During the pandemic, reported crime went down in San Francisco, but that varied dramatically across crime types — while burglaries shot up, larceny thefts plummeted. Crime trends started returning to pre-pandemic levels last year, except for an increase in car thefts.
Breed and all 11 supervisors are under political pressure from constituents to make the city’s streets clean and safe and most are echoing many of their residents’ demands for more officers and non-police solutions, such as community ambassadors. Elected officials, while still supporting police alternatives, have changed their rhetoric since the “defund the police movement” in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in 2020, reflecting a shift toward candidates taking a tougher stance on crime.
“The Board hears loud and clear that this is first and foremost in San Franciscans’ minds these days,” Board President Aaron Peskin told The Chronicle this week. “This is a rare moment where the public sentiments have done societally a 180 (degree turn) in a very brief period of time.”
But even supervisors who agree that police need more resources are critical of tripling the amount spent on overtime. The department projects spending $81 million this fiscal year on overtime, $55.6 million over its budget, according to a report from the Budget and Legislative Analyst.
Breed and police say overspending on overtime is a symptom of the problem of understaffing — the department is struggling to fill more than 100 vacant officer positions. The department’s numbers have dropped in recent years and it now has roughly 1,500 officers, with another 400-plus on leave, below the recommended staffing level of 2,182.
“The prevailing issue is there are not enough San Francisco police officers to go around to do what we need to do,” Scott told supervisors.
Assistant Chief David Lazar said the shortage of officers has led to slower responses. It takes police on average more than eight minutes to respond to an A-priority call for a violent or other serious crime, which Lazar said is “extremely high.”
The department spent the most amount of overtime to ensure minimum staffing, followed by the “Safe Shopper” initiative. Smaller amounts of overtime were spent on arrests, investigations, citywide events, deployment in tourist hotspots, deterring drug dealing in the Tenderloin, gun violence prevention and officers accompanying suspects to the hospital.
Central Station, which includes Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, logged the highest amount of overtime.
Ronen grew visibly frustrated during the hearing, venting that spending on retail theft downtown instead of protecting residents in the Mission made her feel sick. She said she has always opposed using police to treat symptoms of social issues, instead of addressing root causes, but “is asking for more cops than I ever asked for in my life, because the symptoms have gotten so bad in the Mission that we need you there.”
Lazar said police are present in the Mission, such as to address sex work on Capp Street, although Ronen said she had to beg to get those resources.
Some people who gave public comment supported police spending, with one man sharing his story of being attacked on the street and pictures of a bloody gash on his neck. Others opposed the spending, criticizing police shootings and racially inequitable outcomes, and arguing money could be better spent investing in responses to social issues that didn’t rely on police.
Some supervisors are also frustrated that police are asking for more money after a more than $50 million year-over year increase last year. They want plans that show how police will balance their budget after the mayor ordered all departments to reduce spending with the city staring down a $728 million deficit over the next two years.
“We have to recognize the many demands before us so we don’t leave our vulnerable behind,” Chan said.
The police department addressed supervisors’ concerns during their presentation, saying that they have formed a working group to recommend changes to overtime management.
They proposed reducing their current fiscal year budget by $4.5 million by placing 25 percent of their overtime spending on reserve. Next fiscal year, they proposed placing the value of one academy class on reserve to save money. The department has struggled to fill classes, with only 12 graduates in the January class out of a capacity of 55.
Scott said the department has started seeing an uptick in applications, with double the number this year compared to the same time last year. He said the department has designated a sergeant to focus on retention and is working to speed up the process of hiring officers. It is also focusing on expanding civilians in the department to fill administrative or other work that doesn’t need to be conducted by a sworn officer.
Lazar said that he believes “the overwhelming majority of our officers, even though we’re so short-staffed, are doing an incredible job” of providing service.