San Francisco Chronicle
Overtime for SFPD OKd as scrutiny increases
San Francisco supervisors passed Mayor London Breed’s request to spend another $25 million on police overtime amid alarm from constituents about public safety and the city’s struggle to staff the Police Department.
Tuesday’s vote came a day after a new report released by the independent Budget and Legislative Analyst disclosed data that raises questions about the department’s productivity.
Breed introduced the overtime push during her State of the City speech last month as she stressed her top priority of public safety, but she brought the proposal down from $27 million after pressure from supervisors to find more savings. The mayor, police and a majority of supervisors argued the emergency spending in the middle of the fiscal year is critical to maintaining staffing levels and undo a hiring freeze imposed because of overspending.
The department says it needs overtime because it’s grappling with the lowest number of officers in years and struggling to retain and recruit fast enough to fill vacancies. The number of fullduty officers not on leave is around 1,500. The department has budgeted for a total of roughly 2,000 and an analysis recommends closer to 2,200.
“Residents and small business owners from across the City spoke loudly in support of this effort to prioritize public safety and I’m glad their voices were heard,” Breed said in a statement after the vote. “Everything we are doing to support our City has to start with making residents, workers, and visitors feel safe. This is an important immediate step and I appreciate the support from the Board of Supervisors who voted for it. Now we need to continue our
long-term work to address our police staffing shortage, including by pushing policies and investments to recruit and retain police officers.”
The vote was 9-2, with Supervisors Dean Preston and Shamann Walton dissenting.
Some supervisors who voted yes said they’re concerned about fiscal responsibility and want to see more solutions to address the staffing crisis without continuing to hemorrhage money. Still, they argued that spending to keep cops on the street was critical.
“The public deserves and wants to feel safe in San Francisco, and the reality is, they do not. Many do not,” Supervisor Catherine Stefani said.
The request faced pushback from Preston and Walton, who argued police overspending was irresponsible, the department needs to show better outcomes, and the overtime would not make people safer. Preston instead proposed $10 million in non-police alternatives for public safety in the Tenderloin.
The department expects to spend $81 million on overtime this fiscal year, $56 million over budget. The department had already spent its overtime budget by November, Preston said, citing police data. He accused the mayor and police of violating city law by overspending without getting prior approval.
Police Chief Bill Scott said the department knew early on it was heading for a budget supplemental and was in constant communication with the controller and mayor’s office to track its spending. Public debate on the request led to increased scrutiny of the police budget. The report released Monday found that while the number of officers dropped around 16% over the past three years, the number of 911 calls per full-duty officer also decreased from 193 to 181 per year. Including self-initiated activities, the number of events per full-duty officer dropped from 377 to 278, the new report found.
At the same time, violent crimes declined by 14% and property crimes dropped 7%. Arrests plummeted 29%. Clearance rates inched downward, while 911 call response times climbed.
The city has also diverted thousands of low-level, non-violent 911 calls from police to alternative response, including the street crisis response team to help people in mental crisis and a team to conduct wellness checks. But Scott said last week that police still get called to some of these incidents — if a weapon is drawn, for instance.
Preston requested Monday’s report and said he would call for an audit into police overtime spending, which his colleagues would have to approve.
“This report shows that the San Francisco Police Department overspent its overtime budget like money was no object — all while its own metrics for performance were falling,” Preston said in a statement about the report.
In the report, during a Chronicle interview and at a hearing before the supervisors last week, police leadership attributed low performance metrics to a stretched-thin department as well as changes in department policies about use of force and detentions that require more administrative work and time spent on calls. Scott said Tuesday the report did not quantify gains made through criminal justice reforms to do better policing.
Even with fewer arrests, the department has to spend more overtime on them, officials say.
Overtime has more than tripled since 2019, the report said. The largest increases in overtime in the fiscal year running from July 2022 to June 2023 were due to dignitary protection, gun violence reduction and backfilling patrols, the report said. The city also started new initiatives, including stationing officers in Union Square to protect shoppers and workers from retail theft and putting cops in tourist hot spots.
The city invested 30% more this fiscal year in the Safe Shopper program, to the tune of $12 million. In contrast, the department spent 36% less in the Tenderloin, a total of $3 million. However, Breed and police did put more officers in the neighborhood last month to deter drug dealing.
Supervisors say they want to see solutions to avoid having the department return again for even more money at a time when all city departments are being asked to cut back. The Police Department’s approved budget this fiscal year was $714 million, a more than $50 million increase from the year before, but it swelled to $762 million with money carried over from the year before and transfers from other sources, the report said.
The report recommended that the department assess why a high number of officers are on leave and hire more civilians to fill administrative positions. It also said the department should divert more calls for social issues to alternative responses and analyze the effectiveness of special overtime initiatives.