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San Francisco to slash police command roles in legislative deal

A San Francisco police car is seen driving at speed.
A San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) patrol car in San Francisco, on June 20, 2023. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a compromise on police department command staff positions at its meeting Tuesday. The legislation aims to reduce highly paid administrative roles while reducing turnover among station captains, which has frustrated supervisors. 

The legislation will eliminate one assistant chief and one commander position at the police department. Rather than demoting the people holding those rules, it would eventually reduce command staff from 16 to 14 through attrition. 

The savings from those positions would create four new police officer positions. Calling the compromise “a step in the right direction,” Board President Aaron Peskin said the move emphasized “trying to retain district captains.” 

Peskin first introduced the legislation as a last-minute budget amendment on July 25, right before the board left for summer recess. Peskin and Police Chief Bill Scott hashed out the compromise over the past few weeks.

Peskin expressed frustration at what he called “so much churn” of station captains—who are often supervisors’ first point of contact for neighborhood crime issues—at the July 25 meeting. 

“I get used to a captain; they become a commander. They start to learn that job; they become a deputy chief,” Peskin said.

Scott had defended the current command staff structure as necessary for ongoing policing reform and community engagement, and described the high turnover in senior police positions as part of a national trend. 

“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," Scott said. "I don't think that’s going to change."

At a Sept. 20 committee meeting, other supervisors, including Connie Chan, Ahsha Safaí and Rafael Mandelman, also questioned the impacts of the command structure on police efficiency and retirement costs. 

“There’s no disagreement that losing our captains at the rate that we lose them is frustrating for supervisors and is hard on neighborhoods,” Mandelman said at the meeting. “The concerns about pension liability are real, but that goes far beyond the police.”