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130,000 San Franciscans protected by just 4 cops every night, supervisor says

An aerial shot of the Outer Sunset. | Getty Images | Source: Getty Images

On any given night, San Francisco’s largest and most populous police district will only have three or four officers on duty, Sunset Supervisor Joel Engardio told The Standard.

The Sunset is served by the Taraval Police District, which covers at least 130,000 city residents on the SF’s west side, from Golden Gate Park’s southern edge to the San Mateo County border. District 4 Supervisor Engardio says the city’s growing police staffing crisis has hit the Taraval District especially hard. 

“It’s important for residents and business owners to understand just how short staffed our police department is that serves the Sunset,” Engardio said. “The staffing crisis is citywide, but it’s especially dire in the Sunset because [Taraval Station] serves 130,000 residents and is huge. But they’ve lost half of their force. On any given night, there might be only three or four officers to serve 130,000 people in the widest geographic area of the city.” 

Map of San Francisco police districts | Courtesy SFPD/Google Maps

Engardio’s statement comes just a month after other supervisors announced plans to entice more people to join the city’s police force. District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey—a former police communications staffer—said in January that the city is on the verge of a “catastrophic police staffing shortage” and proposed a resolution to match police recruitment bonuses. 

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By the end of January, San Francisco police said the city had roughly 267 funded vacant officer positions. Full-duty officers across the city dipped to 1,537 by the end of January, according to Dorsey, though the city aims to reach a staffing level of 2,182 within the next four years. 

In the Taraval District, Engardio said the staffing problem is even worse. 

“Four years ago, we had 130 officers assigned to that station,” Engardio said. “Today, there’s only 63. Even 63 sounds like a large number, but when you break it down—officers who might be injured, who have to stay at the station to do basic operations and are given these multiple 24/7 shifts,” there are only a handful covering the huge area, the supervisor said. 

District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio | Han Li/The Standard

Engardio says the staffing problem can lengthen police response times, frustrating Sunset residents, who have increasingly been hit by commercial burglaries and other property crimes according to recent police figures.

“Until we hire more police officers, it is going to be very, very hard to meet the demands that everyone has, that we all need of the police,” Engardio said. “As a city, unfortunately, we’ve made it so that no one wants to be a police officer in San Francisco.” 

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Yet, some community leaders caution against approaches that simply increase policing in neighborhoods without addressing certain community needs.

“Over the last year or two, there’s been a tendency to focus on overly simplistic solutions such as getting tough on crime, recalling the district attorney or re-funding the police,” said former District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar. “We need to focus on real practical and long-term solutions to these complex problems. There has been a lack of focus and creative thinking on how to address and ensure safe neighborhoods and safe communities throughout our city in more effective and long-term ways.”

A San Francisco Police Department spokesperson said the agency decides how to distribute officers based on a variety of factors, but prioritizes placing officers in regions with higher crime. 

“We have to be efficient in where we put our officers,” said Sgt. Adam Lobsinger. “We have to put our officers in a place where they can do the most good. For example, the Tenderloin is a few city blocks, but we have more officers in the Tenderloin than we do at Park Station. In other words, we need to have a higher concentration of officers in the Tenderloin because there’s more crime in the Tenderloin than there is in, say, the Park District or wherever else.”