A new report released on Monday showed that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) is currently short 525 officers, and may be down up to 825 by the end of the year.
For years, the SFPD has been down a significant number of officers due to retirements, resignations, transfers, and terminations. However, since the COVID pandemic first struck in March 2020, those numbers have been in freefall. In 2020, the SFPD had 1,911 officers, still below where it should have been. This month there are only 1,651. A 15% cut in 2020 and a 11% cut in the budget for the SFPD in 2020 and 2021 respectively slashed numbers across the city.
In July, the new city budget put money aside for the hiring of over 200 new officers, but other factors have mitigated this effort.
“The problem becomes we can focus on one or two things we have, we can’t focus on everything,” said San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott earlier this year. “Something’s gonna give. That’s where we are right now. It’s a competitive market right now and when you look at our applicant pool over the last five to six years. It’s really, really decreased, significantly decreased.”
“The department is implementing a new retention unit designed to help keep officers on the force. The unit will discuss creative ways to stay competitive with other departments offering things like better training, equipment, and higher salaries. There was a time San Francisco had the most competitive salary. Those times aren’t any more. We have cities that have better salaries, better bonuses, and better incentives to join their department and they are getting traction with that.”
“The situation is bad. Nearly a quarter of the department’s staff is, or will soon be, eligible for retirement. Some officers are staying on longer but in June, 50 officers called it quits. But only a dozen joined the force. We are doing our best with what we have, and the department will continue fighting for more officers. That’s where we are right now.”
SFPD officers shortages, SF crime rise
Due in large part to the shortage, as well as factors such as then-DA Chesa Boudin’s new policies that led to fewer criminal prosecutions, crime skyrocketed throughout the city across every category. The city was named as one of the most dangerous in America, with residents given a 1-in-16 chance of becoming a victim of a crime every year. While there has been the aforementioned push for more hiring and DA Boudin getting ousted, with a replacement who is tougher on crime, it still remains bad. And the officer shortage exacerbates all things by not having enough police on the streets or to make a timely response to a 911 call.
“Well, they are now prioritizing calls differently,” added Chief Scott. “A report of shots fired is going to be a higher priority than an active robbery. The average response time in San Francisco is about eight minutes. That’s up slightly, but way up from 30 years ago when the department had more officers and was at 3 minutes. And we all know, when it comes to crime, a lot can happen in seconds, not minutes.”
And this can get worse following the reveal on Monday that the department could be 825 officers short by the end of the year.
“We got to pick ourselves up and get back into the game,” said San Francisco Police Officers Association President Tracy McCray. “The department is currently short approximately 525 officers. Come December 31st, 300 people could walk out the door. That’s on top of the cops we’re short just right now. That’s a fail. It’s getting bad.”
And, despite current efforts to mitigate that, with a huge hiring push and continued efforts to retain officers with better pay and other benefits, many security and policing experts warn that 2023 may be even worse.
“It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is going,” explained Frank Ma, a former law enforcement official who now works as a security advisor for businesses in San Francisco and cities in the Peninsula, to the Globe on Monday. “New officers are just not enchanted with San Francisco like they once were. There’s plenty of in-state and out of state options with similar pay and benefits. Now, this is a nationwide problem, and even trendy cities are facing shortages. From Florida to New York to California. Even larger departments like the LAPD are beginning to feel the sting. But San Francisco? It’s just not attractive as it once was.”
“2023 is going to be bad. They need to do something to right the ship. But right now, nothing seems to be working.”
As of Monday, current end of the year projections show a possible shortage of 825 officers, more than 600 more than the LAPD and NYPD.
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