“The police department is understaffed,” Mayor Breed told a local TV reporter. “We do need a police presence, ultimately police presence is what’s going to make a difference.” Amen Madam Mayor. Amen.
Not to get lost in data, but when you look at some key numbers, we should all be alarmed.
San Francisco’s economy has boomed over the last several years. It’s evident by the cranes, new office buildings and residential towers, bustling sidewalks and crippling traffic. According to SFMTA’s January 2019 Mobility Trends Report, since 2010 vehicle traffic into San Francisco grew by 37% (think tons of commuters), employment grew by 32% and our population grew by 9%.
Want to guess what did not increase during that timeframe? Police staffing.
According to data provided by SFPD to ABC 7, there are currently 1,869 full duty officers. In 2010, there were 1,920. Staffing did not go up, but police calls for service, however, did. According to DataSF, in 2016 SFPD had over 630,000 calls for service. In 2018, we had over 803,000—a 27% increase.
We have fewer officers to handle more calls, on more congested streets which is leading to longer response times to emergencies. The Department has a response time goal of 4 minutes from dispatch to arriving on scene for “A Priority” calls (those requiring an immediate police response). In 2009, the average response time to “A Priority” calls was 3 minutes 49 seconds. This fiscal year, it is 5 minutes 39 seconds—a 54% increase!
Two minutes literally can mean the difference between life and death, or a crime in progress being thwarted by an officer rushing to the scene.
San Francisco residents, workers and visitors really deserve better.
When you step away from the numbers and think about all the new responsibilities our elected leaders want to see our officers undertake, you can begin to see the daunting challenge SFPD faces.
I wish the answer was simply, “hire more cops.” The reality, however, is that there’s a national police staffing crisis. Departments across the country are aggressively competing for a shrinking pool of interested and qualified candidates. And the Mayor was right, it really does come down to money. Both to expand the number of sworn officers and to ensure competitive pay.
If SFPD cannot be competitive economically, especially given the astronomical costs of living in the Bay Area, we will not be able to recruit enough officers to replace those who are preparing to retire—and we will be in real dire straits.