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Politics & Policy

San Francisco mayoral candidates brawl over police staffing crisis

Three people, likely politicians, speaking with microphones; a woman in red, a man in a blue suit, another in a white shirt, all seem engaged.
San Francisco mayoral candidates London Breed, Mark Farrell and Daniel Lurie are fighting over how to achieve a fully staffed police department. | Source: The Standard

With 500 vacant police officer positions to fill, San Francisco mayoral hopefuls are voicing their support for more police officers as concerns about crime loom large over local politics.

The three frontrunners, all moderate Democrats, agree on the importance of a fully staffed police department. But the debate over how to achieve it spilled out into the open this week after one candidate publicized his plans.

Shortly after Mark Farrell, a former supervisor and interim mayor, released his platform to tackle the police staffing shortage, his competitors Mayor London Breed and Daniel Lurie tried to discredit him with aggressive rebuttals.

“Mark Farrell’s policy platform is just a thin minestrone of half-baked ideas and plagiarism,” said Joe Arellano, Breed’s campaign spokesperson, in a strongly worded response that accused Farrell of copying her ideas and “cosplaying as mayor from your kitchen.”

Lurie’s campaign criticized Farrell as an “obstructionist” to law enforcement and cited a decline in officers during his six-month term.

Police union lukewarm on Farrell’s plans

Farrell’s proposal for police staffing centered on three things: funding five police academies to bring new blood into the workforce; reviving a ballot measure with modifications to allow older and retiring officers to continue working without damaging their pensions; and reforming the hiring process by speeding up background checks.

“Mayor Breed has forced San Francisco to fight with one hand behind our backs as she has presided over a police force that is a shadow of its former self,” Farrell said. “Not only did she divert funds from the department, but she is failing to remove unnecessary hurdles to get more officers on our streets.”

So far, his boldest proposal is to fire Police Chief Bill Scott to shake up the department from the top down.

But the police union doesn’t seem overly enthused about Farrell’s effort. Tracy McCray, the president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said in a statement that the police officers want to see immediate actions and a plan that city leaders can implement on day one of their job.

“We are glad Mark Farrell is putting forward his ideas,” McCray said, “but whether replacing the chief or getting voter approval for a complex pension benefit, those ideas will take years to produce results.”

McCray also urged all candidates to have strong public safety policy agendas because San Francisco voters expressed clearly in the March election that they want solutions to make San Francisco a safer city.

It’s unclear which candidates the union will endorse in the November election as the outspoken group is back in the city’s politics after largely staying out of political races for years. The union did not endorse Breed in 2018 and also had a tumultuous relationship with Farrell when he was mayor. 

The group issued a scathing blog post about Farrell during contract negotiations in 2018. Lurie has no apparent ties with the police union, and his campaign issued a press release blaming Farrell for exacerbating the police staffing crisis during his time as mayor.

A woman in a police uniform stands solemnly before a memorial wall honoring fallen San Francisco officers.
Tracy McCray is the president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. The police union hasn't always been a fan of mayoral candidate Mark Farrell. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard

Garret Tom, a Farrell supporter and a retired deputy chief with the police department, said that he supported the idea of reviving the old program to allow retiring officers back on street patrol but agreed that it would be a short-term solution.

“Once you bring your academy up, and then, you won't need that program,” Tom said, “but that could take a long time.”

Tom also said the department needs to be more creative in hiring now, using a more personal approach to let the younger generation see themselves thriving in the profession while using social media to reach broader audiences.

Breed, Lurie and Safaí's takes

After months of being attacked by other candidates, Breed has apparently strengthened her campaign tactics to fight back. On Wednesday, her campaign sent out a comprehensive plan for police staffing and public safety, some of which is already in motion. That includes providing more incentives for recruiting, empowering the police department through ballot measures like Prop. E and freeing up police time by diverting non-violent 911 calls to street crisis teams. Breed also touted that she appointed District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who has closer ties to law enforcement than her predecessor, Chesa Boudin.

Her campaign provided data showing that police department staffing is increasing while certain crimes are down.

“Applications to the department are at the highest levels since 2018 and the number of officers leaving the force is down dramatically,” Breed’s campaign said Wednesday.

Lurie hasn’t officially released a police staffing proposal but addressed the crisis in an op-ed in The Standard in February.

He suggested the traditional bonuses have proven insufficient, and he wants more innovative ways to attract people to join the police department: workforce housing, rent subsidies for first responders and even child care benefits for cops. He also emphasized better use of police resources.

“We can do that now by better focusing our police resources,” Lurie said in a statement. “That means getting cops out of the business of responding to calls that don't require someone with a badge and a gun."

Again, Breed’s campaign accused both Farrell and Lurie of stealing her ideas, saying some of the solutions they proposed, such as funding academies, are exactly what she has been doing.

As a political newcomer, Lurie also shot fire at Breed and Farrell as two sides of the same coin for allowing police staffing and public safety problems to fester for years at City Hall.

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, another mayoral candidate, stayed out of this week's fight as his campaign struggles to gain momentum and his major proposal to maintain police staffing through a future tax, Prop. B, was defeated overwhelmingly by voters in the March primary.

In a statement, Safaí accused Breed of playing politics rather than keeping the city safe as she opposed Prop. B.

"She and her billionaire allies funneled more than $1 million to defeat Prop. B while we have hundreds of funded police officer positions sitting vacant under her leadership," Safaí said. "We need more officers on the streets, plain and simple."

Tom, the retired deputy chief, believes police morale should be the biggest focus.

“America has trashed the police career for the past three to four years, which makes no one want to be a cop,” he said. “But the tide is turning now.”

Han Li can be reached at