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Politics & Policy

Supervisors call for cuts to police budget, but Chief Scott balks

SFPD Chief Scott speaks on police response to the rise in AAPI hate crimes on Jan. 25, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

In an occasionally combative meeting of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Appropriations Committee on Thursday San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott defended his budget from cuts demanded by several supervisors, particularly over incoming police academy classes and other matters pertaining to headcount.

The Board’s Budget and Legislative Analyst (BLA) recommended reductions to Mayor London Breed’s proposed budget for the agency, totaling over $3.5 million in the 2022-23 fiscal year and over $1.1 million in the 2023-24 fiscal year. These reductions are mainly in personnel, comprising the attrition of positions in Field Operations, the cutting of some new analyst positions and the elimination of new positions required for a new records-management system. 

All city departments’ budget proposals were made subject to a review and recommended cuts from the BLA by Budget Chair and District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, based on more than 400 outstanding funding requests for city services received by her office. The Budget Committee will make a final decision on changes to the agency’s budget on Monday, June 27.

Chief Scott, whose department is the only one that has rejected all of the BLA’s budget recommendations, tied his resistance to the need to restore staffing to more effective levels and to continue modernization and reform. 

“We respectfully disagree with the BLA’s proposed cuts because we believe they will adversely impact the department’s ability to respond to calls for service, community policing, investigations, and other public demands on workloads,” Scott said at the hearing. “Our most recent workload analysis indicates that SFPD is 486 sworn officers below the recommended level…[Additionally], the department is already severely short-staffed in analyst positions. 

“This proposal will make matters worse,” the chief added. “These proposed cuts take us backwards in our goals to further civilianize our workforce, and implement and sustain reform.”

In addition to the BLA’s recommendations, Board President Shamann Walton proposed further cuts, such as eliminating two of eight planned police academy classes while placing an additional two on reserve, plus cuts to overtime.  

“We have been more than reasonable with the department,” Walton said, citing the Supervisors recent approval of a new memorandum of understanding with police unions to increase base and retention pay. 

Meanwhile, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai and District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar voiced support for the new academy classes. 

“We had this conversation last year about being able to fill a large number of positions… I think we’ll be around 400 officers short, and even being ambitious that we’ll be able to cut into that with the rate of retirement,” Safai said at the hearing. “I have heard loud and clear, not just from my constituency but the entire city, that this is a priority.”

Ronen spoke forcefully in favor of the cuts, responding to earlier remarks by Scott that the supervisors were placing SFPD “against the wall.”

“The entire city’s back is against the wall,” Ronen said. “The amount of poverty that residents are facing is unprecedented.”

Ronen cited a “$1.3 billion add back list,” of more than 400 funding requests for different city departments from different community groups, to address what she described as “basic needs like broken elevators and seniors stuck on the top floor of their apartments, and mothers buying stolen meat off the street because they can’t afford the meat in the grocery stores.” 

Ronen deemed the Police Department’s approach to the budget as “disrespectful,” and stated further that she was “disappointed that this department could not do what every single other department did, and work with the BLA and figure out a way to accept some of these changes.” 

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston also urged further cuts in line with a policy approach of lowering the footprint of the department generally. 

“I still think you can find up to $50 million very easily in this budget to cut. There absolutely is at least $50 million that could be cut without having an impact on delivery of service at the street level,” Preston said.

Calling some potential cuts “really obvious,” he cited the department’s Mounted and Strategic Communications Units as one example. Preston also urged putting a significant amount of the department’s budget on reserve, tied to progress in the department meeting policy goals on reducing racial disparity in use of force, transparency and other areas. 

Ronen praised many of Preston’s suggestions, with the caveat that many would not impact overall costs. 

The 90-minute grilling session ended without a final vote on the BLA recommendations or Walton’s additional cuts. Ahead of Monday’s final deliberations, Ronen encouraged Chief Scott to continue negotiating with the BLA.