San Francisco November 2016

San Francisco
November 2016

Ballot analysis and recommendations

Overview chevron_right Prop R
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Prop R

Neighborhood Crime Unit

Neighborhood Crime Ordinance

Mandates that the San Francisco Police Department establish a Neighborhood Crime Unit and staff it with a minimum of 3 percent of all sworn personnel.

Vote NO

What the Measure Would Do

Proposition R would require that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) establish a Neighborhood Crime Unit and dedicate a minimum of 3 percent of total sworn personnel to the unit. The 3 percent minimum requirement (59 or more officers) would only apply when the SFPD has met its charter-mandated minimum staffing of 1,971 sworn officers.

The focus of the Neighborhood Crime Unit would be to work to reduce a wide range of neighborhood crime and quality-of-life violations. In particular, members of the new unit would investigate, track and seek to decrease crimes like robbery, residential/commercial burglary, property theft (including bicycles), break-ins, vandalism and aggressive or harassing behavior.

In addition to establishing a new unit focused on neighborhood crime, the measure would call for the SFPD to coordinate with other city departments (such as Public Health, Homelessness and Supportive Housing, and Human Services) when responding to neighborhood crimes like panhandling and sidewalk obstruction, as well as to better connect people experiencing homelessness with city services and to help transition them into shelters or housing.

The Backstory

San Francisco is required by law to have a minimum of 1,971 full-duty sworn police officers. In 1994, voters approved Prop. D to establish minimum staffing levels after several years in which budget constraints had limited or eliminated police training classes, resulting in a significantly smaller active force. The 1994 measure assigned new officers to neighborhood policing, patrol and investigations, allowing for changes only through a new vote of the electorate. Currently, about 1,800 officers serve San Francisco, and the city is projected to increase hiring until reaching about 2,000 (over the mandated minimum) by the end of 2017.

In recent years, there has been evidence of growing crime in some neighborhoods in San Francisco, particularly property crime. For example, the civil grand jury reported that car break-ins in 2015 reached a five-year high of 24,800 (a 34 percent increase over 2014 and three times more than 2011). 1

The 2016 ballot has several other measures related to policing, homelessness and quality-of-life issues. In addition, San Francisco already has dozens of quality-of-life laws intended to protect the well-being of residents and safeguard public space. Enforcement of these measures — in particular, violations involving the adult homeless population — incurs significant costs, and the city has found that the effectiveness of these measures in deterring crime is questionable.2 The management of the police department has also become increasingly politicized due to the departure of the recent police chief, revelations of systemic racial discrimination within the SFPD and fatal shootings by officers.

Prop. R was placed on the ballot by four supervisors. It did not need to be on the ballot, as the police chief or the board of supervisors could have made these changes without going to the voters. As an ordinance, it requires support from a simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) of the voters to pass.

Pros

  • This measure would give voters a chance to demonstrate their support for dedicating police staff to a new unit to respond to neighborhood crime.

  • This measure’s provisions for integration across city agencies could improve the SFPD’s collaboration with Public Health and Human Services and better connect individuals with needed services.

  • Creating a separate Neighborhood Crime Unit means that officers in that unit would likely be evaluated for their success in reducing neighborhood crime only, as opposed to the broader set of crimes that fall under the purview of a district captain. Therefore, this measure might insulate the officers within the new unit from other pressures and allow them to focus specifically on reducing these types of crimes

Cons

  • Departmental staffing decisions should be left to the department head and the mayor, not the voters. It is not appropriate to dictate staffing levels or the organization of a city department at the ballot box. Meanwhile, the staffing mandate could potentially tie the hands of future mayors and police chiefs, who might need to dedicate resources elsewhere in coming years.

  • Three percent of dedicated officers (59 officers) is an arbitrary number that doesn’t appear to come from any analysis of the actual needs of neighborhoods. More officers might be needed to respond to neighborhood crime, and if so, this measure could reduce the attention to neighborhood crime. It is also possible that fewer officers may be needed or that a neighborhood crime unit would over-dedicate officers toward inequitable quality-of-life policing that has a record of disproportionally targeting homeless adults and minorities.

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SPUR’S Recommendation

SPUR supports the idea of a Neighborhood Crime Unit within the SFPD. We recognize that certain neighborhood crimes, such as vandalism and bicycle thefts, degrade the city’s quality of life and can get overlooked in a police department focused on more serious or violent crimes.

But we oppose using the ballot as a tool to allocate departmental staffing. How a department carries out its functions and how departments coordinate should be decided between the mayor and the department heads (sometimes with discussion and input from supervisors or the city controller). This measure is even more troubling given that the mayor and police chief already support the idea of a Neighborhood Crime Unit, and implementing such a unit does not need legislation to be enacted. Despite some merits, this measure has no place on the ballot.

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