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Politics & Policy

San Francisco lawmaker irked by police brass bloat pushes cuts

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. | Source: Justin Katigbak for The Standard

Sometimes when a budget process is over, it’s not really over.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin introduced a last-minute amendment Tuesday to the city’s budget to eliminate certain positions from the San Francisco Police Department’s command staff.

Earlier in the day, the board put the city budget to bed, making the final vote to approve it before sending it to Mayor London Breed for signature. The new amendment will not interfere with its adoption but will be treated as trailing legislation. 

The last-minute decision left some supervisors baffled and compelled an appearance before the board by police Chief Bill Scott, who defended the jobs proposed to be cut. 

“These positions are in place, not simply because of fashion or just came out of nowhere,” he told the board late Tuesday. “They’re in place because of the need. And if we just disassemble this command staff, that need will likely not be met.”

Peskin responded by expressing frustration with an apparent high turnover of senior positions, particularly during a spike in property crimes, and particularly in his district.

“I will submit this respectfully—there is so much churn within these positions in the command staff and people move so quickly,” Peskin said. “I get used to a captain, they become a commander, they start to learn that job, they become a deputy chief.”

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“All I know is car break-ins in the northeast corner of the city, where every tourist from around the country is coming, are not up 10%, not up 15%, they’re up 300%,” Peskin added. 

Peskin was referring to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, which found that one intersection frequented by tourists—Columbus and Leavenworth streets near Fisherman's Wharf—had seen a 300% spike in car break-ins between 2018 and 2023. Citywide, thefts from vehicles were down 20% year-over-year in May, according to police data.

Peskin told The Standard in a text that the proposed amendment was prompted by recent promotions at the department “and the fact that Central and Northern stations haven’t had a captain for a month… largely because of command staff promotions.”

Scott, responding to Peskin, attributed the turnover in senior positions to national trends. 

San Francisco Police Chief William “Bill” Scott | Camille Cohen/The Standard

“These last three years, there’s been more turnover, particularly in the executive level of police departments across this country, than I’ve seen in my career,” he said. “I don't think that’s going to change, and the best bet to guard against that is to train the people that we do have.”

Meanwhile, most other supervisors weren’t ready to vote on the item without more information.

“I’m not going to vote for an amendment to make changes I don’t believe in, but I don’t have a problem continuing this,” Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said.

The item will be considered first by the supervisors’ budget committee, and then by the full board when the supervisors return from summer recess in September.