The unconscionable execution of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25th caused a sea change in support to end the racist and brutal legacy of policing that impacts Black lives the most. Defund, dismantle and abolish police departments was the rallying call across the country. On June 3rd—despite an escalating Covid-19 pandemic and a standing shelter-in-place order—over 10,000 San Franciscans took to the streets in support of Black Lives Matter and defunding the San Francisco Police Department.
The people demanded a radical change to policing as we know it.
On July 31st, Mayor London Breed proposed a two-year budget for review and approval by the Budget & Appropriations Committee of the Board. In it, the Mayor claimed, she proposed a budget cut of $40 million each of the next two years to the police budget to be reinvested in the City’s African-American community. But the problem was that she didn’t: When comparing last year’s budget to the proposed budget, the Mayor had only proposed a 2.6% decrease or an $18.1 million cut to last year’s $692.9 million police budget. These cuts came primarily from vacant staff positions.
This was no change to policing as we know it.
This month of August, the five Supervisors of the Budget Committee—Chair Sandra Fewer, Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton, Norman Yee and Rafael Mandelman—heard each department, and engaged in a querulous process of debate and negotiation among themselves about budget cuts and add-ons. While typical, the context of the budget approval this year was anything but.
Calls to defund the police, that is, literal calls by the hundreds, were placed during public commentary sessions of the Police Commission in June and the Budget Committee in August that lasted 8, 9, 12 hours each, during which person after person called in to demand City officials to divest from policing and instead invest in Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and public health and public safety alternatives to SFPD.
On Friday August 21st, the Budget Committee discussed the police budget for the final time. Supervisor Hillary Ronen, backed by Supervisor Dean Preston, took the time to show that Mayor Breed and Chief Scott had deliberately and deceptively fudged the numbers on the cuts to the police budget. Pulling and tugging, the Committee agreed on an additional $26 million in cuts for next year by canceling 3 out of 4 upcoming police academy classes and reducing the department’s overtime budget. Supervisor Ronen proposed layoffs to make more funding available to alternatives to policing, but layoffs were decisively rejected by Chair Fewer and Supes Walton, Yee, and Mandelman. By way of explanation, Fewer and Yee said they weren’t comfortable with taking jobs away from cops. Mandelman said his District was short staffed and needed more cops. I don’t remember any explanation from Walton as to why he opposed laying off officers.
This is protection of policing as we know it.
At the close of the session, when all was said and done, the Supervisors congratulated each other for approving an approximate total $44.0 million or a 6.3% cut to the police budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2020-2021, compared to the last fiscal year police budget of 2019-2020.
This is no change to policing as we know it.
Tonight, Wednesday August 26, 2020, the entire budget will be approved by the Budget Committee. The budget will then be sent to the whole of the Board of Supervisors for an expected rubber-stamp approval. Barring that we wake up in an alternative universe, SFPD’s budget will only decrease by 6.3% from last year. Other departments including the Department of Police Accountability, Children, Youth and Families, and the San Francisco Public Library will face steeper cuts.
This will be no change to policing as we know it.
While the budget discussions were ongoing, Mayor Breed cut a backroom deal with the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association, without the knowledge of the Police Commission or Board of Supervisors, in which she agreed to delay a previously negotiated 3 per cent raise for officers in exchange for an additional 6 per cent pay increase in upcoming years. Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Sup. Shamann Walton already stated they will object to the contract. Peskin was scandalized that at the very least the Mayor’s deal didn’t include a negotiation to once and for all take out the meet-and-confer clause that gives the SFPOA the de facto right to change public policy approved by elected City officials.
This is protection of policing as we know it.
The Mayor and Budget Committee’s budget doesn’t add up to a credible and balanced response to divest from police and invest in a robust social safety net for communities most impacted by legacy investment in violent, racist policing.
This budget is a decision to keep the rotten core of the San Francisco Police Department intact.