Earlier this week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation to allow San Francisco Sheriff’s Department Deputies to work voluntary overtime shifts at local retail establishments.
For the last few years, as crime has skyrocketed in San Francisco, city leaders have have been mulling over whether to allow law enforcement to work voluntary overtime shifts. However, a recent string of smash-and-grab flash mob robberies in high-end stores around Union Square and elsewhere in San Francisco and surrounding area cities caused many lawmakers to move up and introduce legislation to help deter those robberies in the area. Despite some politicians outright refusing that these robberies are a problem or even existed in the first place, new proposals have come up in the city in the last few weeks.
On Tuesday, the proposal introduced by Supervisor Ahsha Safai that will allow Sheriff’s deputies to work overtime at businesses that need them, was the first such piece of legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors in a 7-3 vote. The new legislation, which was backed by a working group comprised of representatives from the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), the Sheriff’s Department, City Hill, labor unions, and the NAACP, will not cost taxpayers anything, with the costs to be paid by businesses that hire them as private security.
Speaking on the steps of City Hall, Safai, as well as Sheriff Paul Miyamoto and SFPD Chief Bill Scott said that the Sheriff’s deputies working as guards would primarily be a deterrent, with few arrests or violent acts expected at places where the Sheriff’s deputies would be.
“We’re not going to incarcerate our way out of this problem,” said Safai. “This is meant to be a deterrent. This is meant to be more eyes and ears on the street. We believe it will provide an additional spoke in the wheel of justice to deal with what is plaguing our city right now. It will help meet the demand for increased security at businesses in response to a recent wave of smash-and-grab robberies in the Bay Area.”
“Thirty-seven percent of our retail sales is from Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. So there will be an emphasis on Union Square. But every part of San Francisco, they will be available.”
New legislation in San Francisco
Chief Scott added that the SFPD had been unable to meet the demand for police officers working overtime to protect businesses and that help from Sheriff’s deputies would be welcomed.
“The fact of the matter is the San Francisco Police Department was unable to meet the demand for what was asked for us. And now we have partners from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department,” explained Scott.
Sheriff Miyamoto echoed both the Supervisor and the Chief.
“We are not looking to make a lot of arrests. We are looking to prevent people from committing the crime in the first place just by being there,” added Miyamoto. “This is voluntary overtime provided by our staff as opportunities to sign up for and get out into the community to protect the retail establishments, We have training as police officers. And there would be a period where we have people trained for crimes and encounters specific to retail theft.”
While experts applauded that Sheriff’s will now be joining police officers in the pool of voluntary overtime guards for businesses, they also noted that it was more of a band-aid solution to the crime problem rather than a permanent fix.
“It is good that law enforcement agencies are working together a bit more and having more come in to help businesses out like this,” said 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 Thursday. “But this is not fixing the overarching problem. Plus, many businesses can’t afford these guards. So some criminals might be deterred in some places, but that means they’ll only go for places that don’t have this. So it will help some places with this added security, but like zoo animals testing for weaknesses in a fence, they’ll simply go to other places. We’ve seen this before with hyperlocal police concentrations before. We need bigger changes like longer jail sentences and prosecutors following through on more arrests to see real change. To start with.”
The deputies being allowed to work overtime as security, which the Sheriff’s Department has said will not interfere with staffing levels, is expected to be in place by March.