Possible SFPD budget cuts could reduce force by 11%

The San Francisco Police Commission has rejected a proposed 11%-budget cut, which includes officer layoffs.

However, Wednesday night's unanimous vote does not carry any weight.

Final department budgets undergo a hearing process and are negotiated by the mayor and Board of Supervisors.

As proposed, 167 sworn officers would be cut along with 43 civilian employees.

But in declaring the cutbacks "unsafe," the commission sent a message of disapproval.

"Our biggest issue right now is shootings, we are up significantly in our city in shootings," said Chief Bill Scott, during the meeting.

During the pandemic, rising crime has been a national trend, and San Francisco is no exception.

Scott pointed to three separate shooting incidents last weekend in which multiple people were wounded.

"San Francisco had nine victims shot by this time last year. Right now, it's 46," said Scott, "a disturbing increase."

Mayor London Breed has demanded across-the-board budget reductions from all department heads because revenues have plunged due to Covid shutdowns.

Scott warned that the proposed 11% cut to his department would threaten crime suppression, lengthen response times, and slash overtime by two-thirds.

He is also concerned that under a "last in, first out" hiring policy, the officers who would be let-go would be the youngest and most ethnically diverse on the force.    

Public comment was mixed on the topic.

"Our city is in trouble right now, there are not enough police on the streets," said one caller, who cited recent street robberies and assaults.

"This city has an attitude of lawlessness and guess what that brings, criminals who are more brazen."

But other commenters welcome the reductions, as part of a trend de-funding police in favor of programs that address root causes of crime and homelessness. 

"We all want public safety for San Francisco and the people have spoken about what that looks like and in great detail," said one caller, in support of the cutbacks.

"Commissioners, the way you vote now can help bring real impactful change, please do not kick the can down the road," urged another reform-minded resident.  

Breed has also warned that if economic conditions worsen, cuts could go even deeper, necessitating the loss of an additional 56 officers.

"For residents, for tourists, when COVID is over and people come back, you want a safe city," said Tracy McCray, Vice-President of the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

"Who wants to wait 30 minutes for an officer, that's what will happen, longer response times with less people to answer these calls."

In discussing trends, Chief Scott also described a huge spike in burglaries and noted how deploying officers, both patrol and plainclothes, can deter it.

Specifically, he described a confrontation in Noe Valley in which a burglar assaulted two officers, stabbing one.

Neither officer was seriously injured and the suspect was apprehended.

"Officers on foot beats, fixed posts, and patrols make the difference," declared Scott.

In Visitacion Valley police cuts are a particularly raw topic.

Tuesday afternoon, two armed robbers invaded a home, one of them firing a shot as officers arrived.

No one was hurt, but the neighborhood was locked down for a time, and one man apprehended.

"I saw the units, the helicopters, the manhunt," said resident Francisco Bonilla, born and raised in the area. "And with budget cuts, they're going to know police aren't out there at all and they can do more crime."

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at debora.villalon@foxtv.com and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU