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San Francisco blocks cops from taking vacation during week-long international trade summit

A San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officer stands on Howard Street as workers prepare Moscone Center for Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference. | Source: Kori Suzuki for The Standard

All time off has been canceled for San Francisco police for the week in November when international leaders will converge in the city for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, The Standard has learned. 

The San Francisco Police Department command staff sent a memo Wednesday informing officers of the mobilization from Nov. 9 to 18, when political and business leaders are set to gather in the city for the widely watched international summit.

“To support the public safety needs of the city and execute the security mission of APEC, all sworn members’ days off during this time will be canceled,” the letter reads. “The department will be on full mobilization and members should expect to work 12-hour shifts.”

Some officers will be assigned to patrol or perform other normal duties, but others will be tasked with assignments specific to APEC, the letter said. 

The department will work closely with the U.S. Secret Service to insure the security of the many foreign dignitaries expected to attend, the letter noted. 

The summit will bring together leaders from 21 countries for an event that was founded in 1989 and has been key to creating international trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

The main APEC event is known as Leaders Week, a gathering of heads of state and other government officials. President Biden will be in attendance. Overlapping with that event is the CEO Summit Nov. 14-16 at Moscone Center West. 

The city’s business community is hoping for an economic boost from the gathering, which could also help burnish San Francisco’s reputation as a business hub. In recent years, many have raised concerns about the city's image given the emptying out of downtown, prevalence of open air drug use, homelessness and property crime.

That all leaves law enforcement the job of dealing with event-goers, protesters— and their normal duties across the city. 

Past APEC summits have deployed robust police responses, which some said was overkill for protests and general security. 

When APEC was in Vancouver in 1997, protesters clashed with Canadian police that led to allegations of excessive force, according to an after-action report by the U.S. Justice Department. The report said there were issues with how the event’s command structure was organized, and confusing planning around which police forces were assigned to specific duties. 

Last year’s APEC summit in Bangkok, Thailand resulted in clashes between police and protesters as well. The country mobilized 25,000 police to deal with the summit—far more than San Francisco could manage by itself. 

The last event held in San Francisco that police responded to in large numbers has been criticized by some in the city. Many questioned how SFPD dealt with the Hill Bomb near Dolores Park, where more than 80 officers responded to an unpermitted skateboarding gathering and arrested more than 100 people, most of them minors. 

The department would not tell The Standard exactly how many officers it plans to deploy on security assignments at the APEC summit. Department spokesperson Evan Sernoffsky only went so far as to say that SFPD will work with state and federal law enforcement to ensure the summit is safe.

The event comes at a time when SFPD says it’s short-staffed and the city expanded its budget for police, in part, to pay for overtime expenses. 

SFPD counts about 1,500 sworn officers in its ranks—roughly 300 fewer than its most recent high in 2017. The state has even come to the city’s aid recently by deploying California Highway Patrol officers in the drug-plugged Tenderloin.

San Francisco’s police union head, Tracy McCray, reiterated in her latest monthly newsletter that the Police Officers Association has been “loudly ringing the alarm bell about the shortage of officers on the street.” 

Despite such concerns, San Francisco is a city that is used to hosting large events, most of which go off without a hitch.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at jonah@sfstandard.com

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