Our Commitment to Public Safety
In San Francisco, we have been working to get as many police officers on our streets to address the public safety needs facing our City. Right now, we have a significant staffing shortage, just like jurisdictions across the country. While we do the long-term work on improving strategies to recruit new officers to fill our Academy classes and retain the officers we do have, we need to use overtime funding to ensure we can cover our city with the officers we do have on staff.
It’s a simple equation — if we want to continue to see officers on our streets, investigating crimes, and responding to calls for service, we have to fund more overtime. This is about the safety of our neighborhoods and it’s about our economy.
To get us through the rest of the fiscal year (through June 30), we need to appropriate $27 million more to continue to fund overtime. I’ve introduced that budget supplemental at the Board of Supervisors, with the support of co-sponsors Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Rafael Mandelman, Matt Dorsey, and Joel Engardio. We need eight votes from the Board of Supervisors to pass this.
This vote will be coming up in a few weeks at the Board, and it’s important to explain what it does and why it’s necessary.
Why We Need This
Recently, I met with a group of small business owners in the Tenderloin. They are demanding change in their neighborhood around the open-air drug markets. They are beyond frustrated with the drug dealing and the violence that comes along with it. They have compassion for those who need help, but they feel ignored.
We have been working to provide additional resources, which is difficult but important, and are seeing some initial results. Year-to-date, SFPD’s Tenderloin station has seized nearly 18 kilos of fentanyl, compared with 5.5 kilos in the same period last year. That’s enough to kill more than the entire Bay Area population combined. That’s both an important stat, because it shows the work being done, and an alarming one, because it shows how much fentanyl is on our streets and in our City.
The Tenderloin merchants are not alone in asking for police support. I’ve met with retailers frustrated with the level of brazen shoplifting, and last year we worked with them on an Organized Retail Theft operation across multiple retailers that resulted in sixty arrests. Officers have been working to address safety issues related to sex work and associated violence on Capp Street, and we know resources are needed to focus on issues more broadly in the Mission, including around illegal vending and fencing.
In visit after visit to offices Downtown, the number one issue both executives and workers raise is public safety. Just recently, I went to a talk at Gensler, the largest architecture firm in the world that is proudly headquartered right here in San Francisco. This was a gathering of Gensler employees and the partners they work with who are the experts that imagine, design, and build spaces in cities like San Francisco. Of all my nine strategies to bring back Downtown, which include the very types of issues these people work on every day like converting offices to other uses or reimagining open space, the number one issue people pointed to at that meeting was public safety.
Our residents are asking. Our small businesses are asking. Our large employers and workers are asking. And we have to listen and act.
Listening also means continuing to expand our alternatives to policing, like our Street Crisis Response Teams, which are out on our streets 24/7 responding to people struggling with mental illness and addiction It also means building our multi-department, coordinated approaches to those who are hardest to reach struggling with mental illness in our City, like the work we are doing in the Castro and continuing our work to reform our mental health laws at the state level. Because our police officers need to focus on crime and public safety, not issues around mental health and homelessness.
Long-Term: Building Back Police Staffing
As I said, like police departments across this country, San Francisco has a severe staffing shortage. San Francisco is now 331 officers lower than in 2019 and 541 officers below the staffing analysis recommended level and many are eligible for retirement. This impacts our City’s response times and our ability to deploy officers across the city.
That is going to take years to fix, and we are working on it. In our last budget, we increased recruitment and retention bonuses to make San Francisco more competitive with surrounding jurisdictions.
But while we do that work, we still need to provide the level of service to address the issues our residents, workers, and visitors deserve.
As the number of officers decline, the need for overtime increases in order to provide the same level of service. Between 2021 and 2022, SFPD saw a 121% increase in total overtime. And this year, we are using even more.
Immediate: Public Safety Funding for Overtime
To get us through the rest of the fiscal year (through June 30), we need to appropriate $27 million more to continue to fund overtime. The supplemental will ensure the police have the funding necessary to continue to meet current levels of service. This includes the work we are doing in the Tenderloin and addressing organized retail crime and fencing operations. It will help us from seeing response times further decline.
Importantly, this supplemental prevents mandated service cuts and a hiring freeze. If this supplemental does not pass, the Controller will be required to freeze hiring and overtime spending through the end of the fiscal year in June, which will significantly reduce policing levels across the city. That means fewer officers addressing drug markets and retail theft, reduced community foot patrols, and slower response times for calls for service.
This funding will also help continue to support SFPD Community Ambassadors. These are civilian retired sworn members who serve to supplement foot beat patrol presence in merchant corridors. These retired officers are essential to continuing to provide coverage in areas across the City like Union Square, the Castro, Fisherman’s Wharf, West Portal, Sunset, and Fillmore.
The retired officers work alongside our other ambassador programs, including our Urban Alchemy ambassadors in the Mid-Market and Tenderloin areas, and our Welcome Ambassadors which are focused more in our Downtown and tourist areas. Currently, there is a proposal at the Board of Supervisors to ensure that our Urban Alchemy and Welcome Ambassador programs continue to serve our residents, visitors, and small businesses.
Accountability by District Attorney
The work we need to do extends beyond arrests. It also requires accountability for those who cross the line. Our District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has been working to bring that balance back around accountability — offering alternatives for first-time offenders who commit minor crimes, while being forceful with those who are committing violent crimes or repeat offenses, especially around the dealing of fentanyl.
For example, from when DA Jenkins took office through the beginning of February, the DA’s office has filed 480 felony narcotics cases, up from 264 through the same time the previous year. To continue this work and expand on it, I’ve submitted a supplemental for three new dedicated narcotics prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office. These positions are critical for the work we need to do to disrupt open-air drug markets.
Anyone who asks otherwise needs to meet with the small businesses and residents from the Tenderloin as I have. They are very direct with me — they hold me, they hold our police, and they hold our elected officials accountable. As they should. It’s on us to use our tools locally, and to partner with state and federal officials as well to make our neighborhoods safer.
These budget supplementals are part of our overall strategy. Around public safety, adding ambassadors, using alternatives to police to deal with behavioral health challenges and other issues. Around implementing police reforms so our police officers are doing their jobs the right way, with the proper training, and so they can continue to build trust with our communities they serve.
The Supplementals must be heard at Budget Committee starting in March. And the plans for how we tackle our long-term staffing issues will continue on into our budget conversations, which begin in May.
We are making progress around public safety in San Francisco. There are significant long-term challenges around staffing that we will continue to address, but in the near-term we will continue to work with the community to meet their needs and make San Francisco safer for all.