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Chief: Paying cops six-figure salaries for clerical work isn’t a waste

San Francisco Police Chief William “Bill” Scott speaks at a press conference at SFPD headquarters on Oct. 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Police Chief Bill Scott doesn’t deny that San Francisco spends millions paying troubled officers to work as clerks.

But he disputes the notion that it’s wasteful, though SFPD spent roughly $17 million over six years to keep cops on desk duty.

“Unless they are suspended or terminated, they have to be paid,” Scott said Wednesday at a Police Commission meeting. “We have to assign these employees in some assignment, and they are entitled to due process.”

In California, police unions over the years have successfully pushed for legislation that makes it harder to fire or punish officers. Police say they need that protection to do their jobs and protect the public. That puts police departments in a tough spot, Chief Scott seemed to acknowledge, as they figure out how to deal with employees they don't trust.

The chief’s comments came in response to questions from two members of the Police Commission over a series of investigative reports by The Standard that revealed how San Francisco spent $17 million since 2016 to keep 57 officers who may have gotten into trouble behind a desk.

These officers were all sent by police brass to a unit called the Department Operations Center, where they fielded phone calls, did data entry and performed other work that could be done by civilians.

“Neither officers nor the public are well served by a system that assigns sworn members to ministerial duties for extended stretches at great expense to the city,” commission Vice President Max Carter-Oberstone told The Standard. “I think the commission should learn more about this practice and identify any potential solutions.”

Commissioner Kevin Benedicto called the figures in The Standard’s reporting “deeply concerning” and said he would work with police brass to “get to the bottom” of the situation.

“There are significant staffing and resource issues at the department, and I want to make sure that resources, manpower and funds are being deployed in the best possible way,” Benedicto told The Standard.

Scott disputed the characterization of the Operations Center as a “rubber room,” such as the reassignment centers where New York City held problem teachers.

“I don’t want people working in the DOC to be stigmatized that this is a ‘rubber room’ or someplace where we put employees who can’t function,” he added, “because that is the furthest thing from the truth.”

However, The Standard learned that Scott sent many officers facing serious allegations to the Operations Center over the years.

Records showed 12 officers—who may have been sent there awaiting discipline—remained at the unit for more than 1,000 days.

In the most extreme case since 2016, San Francisco spent $1.2 million paying an officer accused of having sex with a teenager and using drugs to work there for six years.

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