Proposition C - Police Staffing Level

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the March 2004 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

This Charter change aims to increase San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) efficiency without a decrease in service, by allowing some SFPD positions currently filled by sworn officers to be filled by civilians. Basic protections regarding neighborhood policing, position reviews, and no job losses of uniformed personnel are included.

Why it is on the ballot

In 1994 the voters adopted a minimum police staffing level of 1,971 sworn, full-duty officers within the SFPD. This came after several years in which budget constraints limited or eliminated police training classes--resulting in a significantly smaller active force. The 1994 measure assigned new officers to neighborhood policing, patrol, and investigations, allowing for changes only through a new vote of the electorate.

Over time, the SFPD began to fill clerical and administrative positions with sworn officers in order to reduce the overall headcount while still maintaining the sworn officer minimum. Sworn officers, with benefits, are generally more expensive than civilians. Proponents of this measure estimate 200-300 positions could be "civilianized" at a savings of perhaps $20,000 per position.


Those who support this measure state:

  • Current practices are highly inefficient, placing high-salaried, high-benefit, highly trained sworn officers in administrative positions. This deployment of human resources is wasteful, resulting in less money for other public safety or City needs. This common-sense fix to an inefficiency system guarantees protection of existing officers and includes a de-politicized decision making process for making changes.


Those who oppose this measure state:

  • The supposed guarantees in the measure notwithstanding, fewer sworn officers are bound to result in fewer resources for neighborhood policing and emergency response.

SPUR's analysis

This proposal is consistent with more-efficient-budgeting proposals put forward by SPUR. Several protections are placed in the measure:

  • The determination of which positions to civilianize will come through a study by the Controller and Chief of Police, which will include a review of best practices and consultations with the Board Budget Analyst, Director of Human Resources, and a representative of the police officer's union.
  • The number of police officers dedicated to neighborhood community policing, patrol, and investigations could not be reduced. Likewise, the Controller and Chief of Police would have to determine that proposed reductions in sworn officers would not substantially interfere with the delivery of police services or the ability of the Department to protect the public in the event of an emergency.
  • The proposal specifically prohibits the laying off of any officers in order to convert a position from sworn officer to civilian.

Conversion of sworn positions to civilian would take place through the budget process following the study by the Controller and Chief of Police. The minimum staffing level set in the Charter since 1994 could be reduced by the same number civilianized.

This measure is a common-sense approach to more-efficient government, which provides adequate protections for public safety and individual employees. It moves in a direction recommended by SPUR's paper on the City budget (SPUR's May, 2003 Newsletter, Number 416). It is rare to find such a clear-cut opportunity to make government more efficient.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition C.