San Franciscans to Vote on Police Staffing Levels, Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Since 1994, San Francisco’s city charter has required its police department to maintain a force of 1,971 full-time officers. Voters will have a chance to repeal that requirement in November, after a proposed charter amendment sailed through the city’s Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

“To create a thoughtful process for determining police staffing levels that can actually prioritize the needs of communities, we need to remove the handcuffs that the mandatory minimum staffing requirement has placed on San Franciscans and our budgets,” said Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, who proposed the amendment.

He called it an “antiquated number,” born out of a 1979 class action settlement to address race and sex discrimination in the department. The lawsuit, filed in 1973 by a group of Black police officers, also gained support from League of United Latin American Citizens, Chinese for Affirmative Action, National Organization of Women, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The officers alleged discriminatory promotional examinations and physical agility tests scored and weighted to disfavor female applicants. At the time of the settlement, the force of 1,670 had only 60 women and 200 Black, Asian, or Hispanic officers.

The settlement required the police department to set a minimum staffing level at 1,971 and maintain that level for three years, and became part of the city charter in 1994 with the passage of a ballot measure.

Yee said the charter amendment will base staffing levels on workload. It also compels the department to submit a staffing report to the Police Commission every two years, on which the commission will be required to hold a public hearing. It will also have to consider the report when approving the department’s budget.

At Tuesday’s meeting, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said that while SFPD had some issues with the amendment’s staffing models, he appreciated Yee’s collaborative approach that gave the department the opportunity to weigh in.

“Definitely the department does not oppose this legislation,” he said.

The board passed the proposal 11-0. 

The supervisors Tuesday also unanimously passed another charter amendment that would create a Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board and Sheriff’s Department Office of Inspector General that would investigate complaints of non-criminal misconduct and inmate deaths in San Francisco county jails.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who introduced the measure, said he had been working on creating the new agency with late Public Defender Jeff Adachi in light of reports of inmate mistreatment at the hands of sheriff’s deputies. 

The amendment will also appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. It establishes the office of the inspector general, which would operate under the oversight board and would be separate from the sheriff’s department.

Four of the oversight board’s members will be chosen by the board of supervisors, and three by the mayor. The board would make recommendations to the city supervisors based on the inspector general’s investigations of in-custody deaths and complaints made against the sheriff’s department and its contractors.

“With the recent uprisings and calls for justice reform due to the many instances of law enforcement’s attack on black people and people of color, this charter amendment comes at a perfect time,” Walton said. “This ordinance is a first step in rebuilding community trust.”

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