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The Toll Policing Takes

July 1, 2022
Tracy McCray - SFPOA President

Well, I am glad that June is over, and we can set our sights on what’s ahead of us. No need to rehash the changes that June brought — and there were quite a few.

The issues with staffing at SFPD are not a secret. Yes, we have openings, lots of them! But a constant whine I hear from our detractors is that we don’t need that many cops! Well exactly how many are needed? That seems to be the question that no one has an answer for, as the city faces an uptick in several types of crimes, in particular violent crime. Some would say I am fear mongering but those people don’t see the crime stats in real time like I do. Everyone should be concerned about our staffing and retention issues. During the past several weeks, many articles and opinions have been written about the state of the city, some good, some lousy, but who is counting?

Everyone has their take about what has or has not been done in the city that brought us to where we are currently. I mean, is it me? I think it is a lot of people seeing and feeling the same emotions about where we are at as a city. I remember someone telling me that the city is progressive to a point, and it has reached that point. The status quo can no longer be the status quo.

When I see the number of reports for the shootings, robberies, physical assaults etc., I wonder about the resources we need to do a thorough job. The interviews, canvassing for witnesses and evidence, going to the hospital, or transporting someone to the jail facility takes time. A lot goes into doing the job that takes precious time away from going back out on the street to hopefully prevent another crime from happening. Do the people that live, work, and visit the city really understand what goes into policing the city? I don’t believe that people do, as I don’t believe the politicians who are trying to run this city do either. The difference is that the politicians should take an interest to understand the process to make informed decisions that impact the people of this city.

During the recent budget hearings, the disrespect towards the police department was appalling. The blatant and open animosity by people calling themselves public officials, was ugly. The officials didn’t want to be reminded that when the city was facing a budget crisis because of the pandemic, we deferred our raises to save jobs for other unions that did not want to defer their wages. We continued to work because criminals don’t care about a pandemic. When there was no team of paramedics, social workers or DPH clinicians to respond to the mental health calls, our members stepped up to answer those calls, even though some people were saying that we should not be, who else was going to respond? I won’t belabor the point, but truth be told, we are still responding to those calls for service. When the department and city officials come to the table for any discussion they should do so with respect and a can-do spirit. That is not what I saw. What I saw was disappointing.

The union has been an advocate to have proper city departments take on a list of calls for service since 2020, and that has gone nowhere. The city has still not moved on the list and as it stands now, it seems they are happy with the members we represent going to these calls and assume all the legal liability that comes our way. And that liability is real as people love to sue us for any and everything. But what about the liability that is non-monetary? Liability comes in many forms. The cost to the individual officers when they are constantly put in these situations that, everyone agrees, really call for professionals who have expertise with mental health issues and drug addiction. The police are not doctors or health care professionals, we don’t have the answers to cure these ills, yet we are constantly put in a position where we are responding to try and help people in medical crisis. The time has come for the proper city partners to step up to the plate and work with us to resolve the jurisdictional issues and codify policy.

These calls, in addition to the long hours that officers have worked over the past several months begin to take a toll on our own mental health. We must take care of ourselves first before we can take care of anyone else. Unfortunately, and sadly, we have lost officers recently. I want to remind you all that we do have the best behavioral science unit to help us deal with the complexities of the job. But sometimes it might seem as if there is not enough help in the world for what ails the human soul. So, we might internalize our feelings and fall deeper down the rabbit hole until we cannot pull ourselves back out. We don’t need to lose another officer. We need to help each other get through the day so that we may see another. If you or your fellow officers are struggling, there is help.

I overheard someone say: Can you imagine being a cop? You are traumatized over and over because a particular street corner is where a child was murdered or a certain house is where someone was raped, and you must drive by those places every day and pretend to yourself that everything is fine.
We must admit to ourselves that sometimes the helpers need help themselves.

SFPD Behavioral Science Unit
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255