Removes San Francisco’s minimum police staffing requirements from the City Charter and establishes a framework for the Police Department and Police Commission to use in determining the city’s police staffing needs.
What the Measure Would Do
The City Charter requires that the San Francisco Police Department maintain a minimum of 1,971 full-duty sworn officers and maintain the number of officers dedicated to neighborhood policing and patrol at least at the level it was in the fiscal year 1993–1994. Prop. E would remove both of these staffing requirements. In their place, the charter would require the chief of police to submit a staffing report and recommendation to the Police Commission every two years. The report would include information on the Police Department’s overall staffing and workload, the department’s public service objectives and legal duties, and other information the chief of police deems relevant to determining proper staffing levels of full-duty sworn officers. The Police Commission would be required to hold a public hearing on the staffing report and adopt a policy at least once every two years to set methodologies for evaluating staffing levels. The Police Commission would ultimately approve staffing levels through the budgetary process.
In 1994 voters approved Proposition D, which added language to the City Charter requiring the Police Department to maintain 1,971 full-duty officers on the police force at all times. The rationale behind this number is not evident and has drawn scrutiny in recent years. It is also not apparent that this minimum staffing number has been met consistently, or ever, since the charter was amended; rather, it has been consistently cited as a staffing goal.
In 2015, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance recommending that the new staffing goal increase from 1,971 full-duty sworn officers to 2,200, due to an increase in the city’s population since the 1,971 level was established in 1994. The resolution to tie police staffing to population growth received criticism from the public and policymakers, who asserted that police staffing should not be linked to population but instead to the department’s workload and other public safety considerations. The following year, the Board of Supervisors Budget & Legislative Analyst’s Office published a report that echoed this criticism and asserted that determining police staffing levels based on a set minimum number of officers is not a best practice, nor is basing them on population size. Instead, staffing levels should be determined through a workload-based assessment. The recommendations from this report, in addition to complaints from city residents that their neighborhood had too much or too little police presence, led to the development of Strategic Police Staffing and Deployment Task Force in 2018. This task force developed a framework for determining police staffing levels that aims to provide the Police Commission with the ability to rationally evaluate police force staffing needs and address public safety needs. This framework serves as the basis of Prop. E’s proposal.
Prop. E was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors and must be on the ballot because it is a charter amendment. The measure requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
Removing the staffing minimum from the City Charter and creating a more public and deliberative process would increase the city government’s awareness of and responsiveness to San Franciscans’ safety needs. An analytical evaluation of staffing would enable decision-makers to gain insights into disproportionate levels of policing and types of crime experienced throughout the city. In response, the city would be able to address discriminatory over-policing practices and deploy officers where they can be most effective at preventing and responding to crime and ensuring public safety. In addition to evaluating the number of officers deployed throughout the city, this process would surface other important findings, such as a deficit of bilingual officers in a neighborhood where English is not the primary language spoken. This type of information would enable the police force to be more responsive and adaptive to safety and community needs throughout San Francisco.
- Prop. E would put staffing levels under the purview of the Police Department and the Police Commission, with input from the public. This is a more appropriate place to make department-specific decisions than the City Charter.
- A regular evaluation of police staffing levels could lead to better and more efficient distribution of officers based on need, as well as help to remedy discriminatory practices such as over policing in some neighborhoods.
- This measure would replace an arbitrary staffing number with a flexible, adaptive process that would enable the city to respond to the public safety needs of San Franciscans over time.
- Since the police staffing requirements were not previously enforced, it’s unclear if removing the minimum would have much impact on police staffing.
A minimum staffing requirement is not a best practice for determining police staffing levels, and police staffing levels should not be mandated by the City Charter. Prop. E is a good governance proposal in that it would remove a decision from the charter that should not be there and empower the Police Commission to determine staffing levels based upon relevant staffing considerations, such as department workload, crime data and community needs.