A proposal by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) was released Thursday detailing a plan to cut their police force by 11% later this month; 167 officers could be let go later this month. And that’s just the beginning.
Due to a massive tax loss in 2020 caused by Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide ordered COVID-19 shutdowns and tech companies leaving the city, San Francisco’s budget deficit ballooned to $1.6 billion last year. Massive 15% department cuts in May 2020 ordered by Mayor London Breed had significantly lowered the deficit, but the amount stagnated, coming to $653 million by December 2020.
That month, Mayor Breed ordered another round of cuts, this time amounting to 7.5% for each department. The second round of cuts drew much criticism, with many noting that new programs such as a $6 million universal basic income pilot program were being approved despite the huge deficit.
“The challenges facing our City in the months and years ahead are significant, and we have a lot of hard choices to make to get our City back on the road to recovery,” said Mayor Breed in a statement in December. “Closing this deficit will not be easy, and it’s going to require tough choices and real tradeoffs. While this pandemic will continue to slow our recovery, I know we can do the hard work to get this City moving forward.”
According to the SFPD’s budget proposal on Thursday, part of the 7.5% cut would be firing 167 officers, as well as 43 civilian staffers. The firings, which would reduce the city’s police force by 11%, may also be increased. Due to the high deficit amount, Mayor Breed also tacked on a contingency 2.5% cut amount for each department should the deficit get worse. Should the 2.5% contingency be added to the current cut, another 56 officers would be let go.
Should the 7.5% cut proposal be accepted next week, the 167 most recently hired officers would be let go. As the SFPD has increased diversity efforts in the 2010’s, 67% of the fired officers would be non-white, undoing almost a decades worth of efforts.
Newly hired officers would be the first eliminated because of a “last in, first out” mandate by the department. Two-thirds of the officers who could be affected by layoffs are people of color — 30% Latino, 28% Asian and 9% Black. Police say that these layoffs, as a result, could hurt diversity efforts in the force.
The San Francisco Police Commission rejected the budget proposal on Wednesday despite not being in a position to halt it, symbolically supporting the SFPD. The commission not only noted the undoing of diversity efforts, but stated that the cutbacks were unsafe due to a rise in crime in the city in 2020.
Other experts have said that the cuts may also harm drawing tourists and visitors to the city post-COVID.
“Tech right now in San Francisco, the whole Bay Area really, is in a precarious position,” Bay Area-based developer advisor John Norris told the Globe. “The city built up a huge tax base after the Great Recession thanks to the tech boom. All the venture capitalists down on Sand Hill Road really made the city a lot of money.”
“But then came 2020. High taxes made tech companies on edge, and after COVID showed that remote working was really viable large-scale and long-term, many left the city, or if they stayed, really, really reduced the number of offices. I mean, skyscraper vacancy in San Francisco right now is over 17%. It hasn’t been that high in a long time. We’re talking decades.”
“And of course COVID itself. A lot of people were laid off and businesses closed and tourism dried up. Crime going up didn’t help. A lot of people even left the city for cheaper places elsewhere.”
“Now with vaccines coming out and light now appearing at the end of the tunnel, San Francisco should be preparing for people coming back again, at least to an extent. But cutting the police right when you’ll need them most? And not only that, but emergency services and other departments right when everything is coming back online? I understand there’s a deficit, but it’s crazy to me. The city was spending like the good times would never end, but they did. Hard. And now the city may not be fully ready again for when things normalize.”
“Some of those very progressive policies are now being involuntarily reversed, like SFPD diversification. In a way, the budget crisis is undoing some of the liberal policies in the city. It’s nuts.”
Final budget proposals are due in San Francisco on February 22nd.