By Thomas K. Pendergast
After some verbal sparring between the mayor and some supervisors, the Board of Supervisors approved a $26.8 million bailout to the SFPD to pay more overtime for police officers.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s supporters included Supervisors Joel Engardio and Catherine Stefani. Running some resistance were Supervisors Dean Preston, Connie Chan and Myrna Melgar, among others.
This latest feud started when Breed’s supporters held a press conference on March 7 in the Tenderloin District, part of Preston’s turf.
“Sadly, your supervisor at the Tenderloin isn’t here today and that’s a real problem,” Breed said. “We are short 541 cops and we are feeling it. It’s not just about showing up and the arrest; it’s also about the investigation. There’s work that has to go into that and we need police officers to do that.”
Breed then leveled her sights at the remaining supervisors.
“We have got to put pressure on the Board of Supervisors, minus the four who are co-sponsors … to get this work done. The future of the City depends on it. The safety of the community depends on it,” she said.
Engardio said Taraval Station serves the largest geographic area in the City – from Twin Peaks to the Pacific Ocean and from Golden Gate Park to Daly City – with 130,000 residents.
“On any given night, there are seven police officers patrolling the streets,” Engardio said. “It would be lower if not for the overtime that we’re paying.”
Taraval Station has lost half its officers in the last four years, from 130 to 65, according to Engardio.
“It’s not just about the money,” he said. “The last police academy only had 12 graduates. In the current academy there are eight. We need to change the narrative of what it means to be a police officer in San Francisco. It’s honorable today to be a police officer in San Francisco. We need to tell people that, so people are willing to apply.”
“Right now, at the Northern Station, which is the station that covers most of District 2, we are 50 officers short, and that plays out in many different ways,” Stefani said. “All of our neighborhoods are suffering, and I don’t know a colleague of mine who hasn’t asked Chief Scott or the command staff for more officers in their district because something is going wrong that requires a police officer.”
At a March 21 meeting of the Board, however, Preston fired back.
“I believe that SFPD needs oversight at this moment, needs it badly,” he said. “And the last thing the department needs is another blank check. The reality here is that police wildly overspent their already increased budget and now want a bailout with more raises, bonuses and unlimited overtime, most of it going to protect luxury retail stores and tourists in areas that are already saturated.
“It’s worth remembering that after getting a staggering $50 million budget increase in the summer of 2022, the department immediately began a reckless spending spree, millions on duplicative overtime to serve downtown interests like Louis Vuitton,” Preston said.
From statistics provided by the SFPD to the Board, overall it seems that more officers and resources have gone into the Central Station – the station that covers Union Square and that handles many parades – than most of the others in the last year.
After the debacle of Union Square looting in late 2021, the SFPD was not about to let that happen twice, so they raised their profile there last holiday season.
“Rather than seeking approval, while running up these massive bills in the fall of 2022, SFPD continued overspending as if money were no object,” Preston continued. “No other department in this city could or would even try to get away with this kind of financial mismanagement. The mayor didn’t even seek this supplemental until SFPD had already overspent by over $22.1 million … before the mayor even filed or introduced a supplemental request. They have recklessly overspent as if using Monopoly money.”
Stefani didn’t hesitate to return fire.
“This idea that they’re just out there protecting Louis Vuitton literally drives me nuts because it is so disingenuous,” she said. “What is happening is that we are protecting people because we want them to feel safe to come to downtown to spend dollars because we get sales tax revenue. Sales tax revenue is down. And what does that mean? Why are we facing a $728 million budget deficit over the next two years?
“It’s not just ‘to protect Louis Vuitton’; it’s to make sure that we protect San Franciscans. It’s to make sure that people want to come here and shop and visit and tour and have conventions. People don’t want to do that if they don’t feel the city is safe.”
After Chan expressed gratitude for the SFPD’s service, she also mentioned the overtime money.
“A supplemental from any city department really should bring to question whether there was mismanagement of city government and public dollars,” Chan said. “There seems to be a direction from our mayor to our police department to invest more in downtown, protecting designer bags (more) than our Asian elders.
“We understand that we need to support our small businesses in tackling burglaries and theft. We do need to answer that demand.”
David Heller, president of the Greater Geary Boulevard Merchants Association, agrees wholeheartedly. In fact his shop, The Beauty Network, was burglarized twice within three weeks and he has plenty of company.
“On this block alone the UPS store got broken into, the massage place got broken into,” Heller said.
He understands that the police are asking for more money to pay for overtime.
“If we give them the money this time are they willing to come and explain how it’s going, quarterly?”
Jimmy Chau owns Jimmy’s Diamond Glass in the Richmond District and he replaces busted windows. He has noticed a significant increase in that sort of business within the last couple of years and throughout the City, so he estimates he gets about 10 orders per week now, although some are cases of vandalism instead of burglary.
SFPD Chief William Scott took responsibility for the situation, but with a caveat.
“Ultimately the overtime, everything in this department falls upon the department head, which is me,” Scott said. “This decision of our spending was not made in a vacuum. We’ve been working with both the Mayor’s Budget Office and the Controller’s Office all the way, with predictions about what our spending patterns are.”
He also stated that these decisions were not made in secret.
“We knew early on that we were headed for a supplemental and those discussions were ongoing up until the point where the supplemental got before this board,” Scott said.
Melgar said the pandemic has changed crime patterns, but tourism is still important to protect.
“The overtime spending that has been done, we can argue whether or not it was effective but the fact is our city lives off of tourism. That’s our bread and butter,” Melgar said. “It is folks who work in retail downtown but also the people who clean the hotels and work as dishwashers and food servers who are suffering from the situation right now, where people perceive that it is not safe to come to San Francisco and perception is important. We need to address it.”
Board President Aaron Peskin gave a historical perspective, saying the dubious goal for a finite number of total SFPD officers was made a generation ago.
“It was silly. It was politics,” he said. “It was done on the back of a napkin in a bar in North Beach. It never deserved to be in the Charter, but a whole bunch of supervisors were scared about the politics of public safety, so they voted to put it on the ballot and the voters adopted it.
“We’ve never met those numbers except for twice. And so I want to disabuse people … on not creating false expectations,” Peskin said. “We should not be running around and saying to the population that we are 500 or 600 cops short; it’s misleading.
“Between last year and this year, the police department budget, unlike any other department, had a massive year-over-year increase from about $657 million to the current year’s budget of $713 million. That is almost a 10% increase that was not enjoyed by other departments.”
With their final vote, the supplemental was passed with a 9-2 vote, with Supervisors Preston and Shamann Walton voting against.
I think more money for the police is a good idea until they can get more officers onboard. I have frequently called in with a loud noise complaint. The police usually arrive like 8 hours later late at night when the noise is over because there’s too few police and they’re handling serious issues. They said there’s only a few police available for our area – it’s impossible for them to get to the lower level complaints so people at my end are suffering. They need help! We at my building finally threatened legal action and that is quieting down the noisemakers for now.
Complete waste of taxpayers money. This expenditure was only approved after a relentless campaign by the enablers who think throwing money at a problem will improve the situation. In this instance the SFPD stats won’t change. But those receiving the OT, for which these monies are allocated, will be smiling.