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San Francisco lawmaker revives push to staff up police force

Supervisor Matt Dorsey is pushing for an ordinance to boost recruitment and bring San Francisco’s police force to full staffing levels. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

In his quest to replenish San Francisco police ranks, Supervisor Matt Dorsey is pivoting after suffering a setback this week.  

The supervisor’s planned ballot measure to hire more cops is being revived as an ordinance after colleagues hobbled the original version with what he called “poison pill” changes on Monday.

Dorsey asked the city attorney to draft the new ordinance at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. Instead of voters weighing in, it will be up to his colleagues to pass.

RELATED: Testy Debate Over San Francisco Police Staffing Erupts at City Hall

“Many times during the committee meeting, it was noted that significant provisions of the measure—those tying real dollars to otherwise empty words on paper—did not need to be in a ballot measure because the mayor (and also this Board of Supervisors, on any given Tuesday) could enact them,” Dorsey told fellow supervisors at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The new ordinance would do two things. First, it would create a police staffing fund, as in the planned ballot measure, which would support recruitment and hiring to bring the San Francisco Police Department to a full staffing level. Second, it would reappropriate $8.4 million—half of what was proposed in the ballot measure—in the current budget to support “more competitive recruitment.” 

Tenderloin Station officers listen during the San Francisco Police Department’s Police Officer of the Month Ceremony at City Hall on July 26, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“I think San Franciscans are well served by a vigorous debate over whether and how to accomplish police full staffing as expeditiously as possible—and I plan to submit a similar measure in the future to discuss funding recruitment for next fiscal year,” added Dorsey. 

Dorsey expects to introduce the draft ordinance next week and said he’s “hesitant to speculate” what will happen with his original ballot measure. 

At the board’s Rules Committee, the original measure was changed to include what Dorsey characterized as “poison pill” amendments, offered by Supervisor Ahsha Safaí and supported by Supervisor Shamann Walton, that make the staffing mandates depend on the passage of a new tax.

The meeting was punctuated by rancorous debate among supervisors and was accompanied by an hour of public comment, mostly from labor groups against the measure, reflecting complaints over recent budget cuts and low pay of other first responders such as 911 dispatchers. 

Dorsey’s new ordinance is sure to amplify the differences between moderate, progressive and swing vote supervisors on how to address the city’s drug overdose crisis and crime issues. Much like a resolution submitted Tuesday by Supervisor Hillary Ronen calling on Mayor London Breed to “initiate an emergency hiring plan” for recruitment and retention of behavioral health workers.

“Supervisor Dorsey continues to push for more [police],” Ronen told supervisors at her roll call speech Tuesday. “Meanwhile, we have had a growing number of vacancies, up to 144 in our beleaguered behavioral health program at [the Department of Public Health], and we have not heard a word, which is very telling.”