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Politics & Policy

Political turbulence ahead for Breed’s $27M police overtime bill

Supervisor Connie Chan (left) speaks to the crowd at the ‘Peaceful Garden’ Block Party as others listen including Police Commissioner Larry Yee (center left), Police Chief Bill Scott (center right) and Assistant Chief David Lazar (right) on Saturday, July 23, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Board of Supervisors Budget Chair Connie Chan has fired an opening salvo in the city’s upcoming budget battle by pushing back on aspects of Mayor London Breed’s agenda, which includes a $27.6 million budget supplemental to fund police overtime.

Supporters of the overtime proposal, which is intended to help maintain police patrols in the face of understaffing, had urged the board’s budget committee to consider it at its next meeting on March 8. But City Hall sources say that the budget committee will instead hear it on March 15, pointing to a political skirmish ahead over the boost to police funding. 

The $27.6 million budget supplemental is intended to fund overtime hours for patrols, as well as to pay retired police officers who supplement beat patrols through SFPD’s Community Ambassadors Program. 

According to the Mayor’s Office, the supplemental will also prevent a hiring and overtime freeze at the department, which has seen overtime hours surge in recent years as the number of sworn officers has fallen. San Francisco has 340 fewer officers than it did in 2019, and more are expected to retire in the coming years. 

San Francisco Mayor London Breed (right) and Chief of Police Bill Scott at a press conference on Oct. 5, 2022. | Don Feria for The Standard

Breed’s spokesperson Jeff Cretan said that if the board doesn’t pass the supplemental, 25 retired officers who had already undergone training to be ambassadors and were slated to start Monday cannot be hired, nor can new police service aides that free up sworn officers from desk work. 

“There is no reason to delay this funding, and now we are seeing the first impacts. Public safety must be a priority for our city,” Cretan said. 

This week, Chan met with selected members of the media to unveil her own vision for a city budget that would reflect, in her words, “an equitable recovery” based on increased transparency measures, a regional approach to homelessness, free public transit, clean energy and more services for children. 

That stands in contrast to an agenda laid out by Breed last month. At her Feb. 9 State of the City address, Breed focused on attracting more businesses by reforming the tax code, building more housing and getting more police on the streets to address open-air drug sales, retail thefts and other issues.

Moderate political groups urged Chan to hear the police overtime bill, which had a 30-day hold waived due to the perceived urgency of putting more police patrols on the street, as soon as possible. 

Supervisor Connie Chan, wearing a white top, looks exasperated and gestures with her hands while speaking in the Board of Supervisors chambers at City Hall.
Supervisor Connie Chan questions the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Sean Elsbernd at a hearing on Oct. 11, 2022. | Benjamin Fanjoy/ The Standard | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy/ The Standard

"With a 600-officer shortfall, the SFPD needs this emergency funding—now—to be able to respond to calls for service and engage in proactive policing," said Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who supports the bill. "It’s time to stop playing politics with people’s safety and fund our public safety officers.”

On March 15, the overtime bill will be considered alongside another $25 million budget supplemental to fund additional street-cleaning positions at the Department of Public Works. That supplemental is sponsored by Board President Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí along with Supervisors Chan, Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen as co-sponsors. 

The fate of the police overtime bill, which needs eight votes to win approval, will likely come down to the votes of a handful of supervisors. 

In a text message, Supervisor Hillary Ronen said she was undecided on the police supplemental and said the department is “overspending” while providing insufficient service to the Mission, which she represents.

“Why are they overspending when over 15,000 calls for services have been diverted from the police to the fire and health departments? If we grant these additional funds, are they going to continue overspending or do they have a plan to live within their annual budget of around [$800 million]?” Ronen wrote. 

The police bill is sponsored by Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Joel Engardio, Matt Dorsey and Rafael Mandelman, and Supervisors Myrna Melgar and Ahsha Safaí have also voiced support for the bill. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston was first out the door to oppose the supplemental. 

“It is preposterous that a department that got bonuses, raises, and a $50 million budget increase last summer—would come back seven months later for an additional $27.6 million,” Preston said in a statement. 

Chan didn’t say whether she would support the bill by press time, nor did Supervisor Shamann Walton. Asked for his position on the bill, Peskin’s response was enigmatic. 

“I am confident that the Board of Supervisors will provide necessary funding to the Police Department and work with them to address their structural budgetary problems,” said Peskin in a text message.