San Francisco police chief concerned over loss of hundreds of officers due to staffing shortages


SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Some 50 veteran officers left the San Francisco Police Department last month with only eight to 10 recruits coming to take their place.

Overall, the city has lost about 300 officers, which means fewer police on the streets, longer response times for critical crimes, and little to no time to interact with the public.

“The situation is bad,” Chief Bill Scott said.

“Nearly a quarter of department personnel are, or will soon be, eligible for retirement. Some officers are staying longer but in June 50 officers called for resignation. But only a dozen have joined the force,” Scott said. .

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And San Francisco is not alone.

“It’s a national issue,” Scott said in an interview with ABC7’s Phil Matier.

The lack of police forced the SFPD to adapt its response to the crimes.

“Well, they now prioritize calls differently. A gunshot report will be a higher priority than an active robbery. The average response time in San Francisco is about eight minutes. That’s a slight increase, but much higher than 30 years ago when the department had more officers,” Scott said.

The leader says the response time was only three minutes then.

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“And we all know that when it comes to crime, a lot can happen in seconds, not minutes,” he said.

But with only 25 people entering each police academy, and with many of them “eliminated”, the question now is how will the SFPD ever be able to meet the demands for personnel?

One way is money, and the Board of Supervisors just approved funds to bring more officers to the town by the bay.

The thing to remember is the fact that San Francisco now competes with every department in the region – and the state.

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Issues potential agents are weighing include living conditions, affordability and travel times.

Phil Matter: Chief, how many officers do you have now, compared to what we should have?

Chief Scott: That’s over 500… 25 of what we should have based on our workforce analysis.

Phil Matter: So we have 1,200 for the whole nine meters. It’s about how many days, a shift?

Chief Scott: It’s actually about 300 officers.

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Phil Matter: What effect does this have on the police?

Chief Scott: Well, it’s definitely a hassle to track service calls. It is a compulsion to meet the demand for what our residents and community members want in the city.

Phil Matter: And a good number of those are now assigned to the Tenderloin and Downtown because that’s a high-visibility area, right?

Chief Scott: It’s very high visibility, so yes. Just to clarify when we say 300, you know, the Tenderloin station has over 100 agents. They don’t all work at the same time.

Phil Matter: But whereas we have 100 at the Tenderloin, a residential station, like Park station next to Golden Gate Park, has something like, what, 40 officers?

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Chief Scott: They are over 50 – 50 years old.

Phil Matter: Seems like a big enough area for not too many cops.

Chief Scott: The call load at Park station is very different from the call load at Tenderloin.

Phil Matter: But I understand that some nights between midnight and 6 a.m. you’re down to two patrol cars.

Chief Scott: Yes, and it is very difficult. And thank God we were able to increase this overtime allocation. So we have what we call the “backfill”.

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Phil Matter: So we have mandatory overtime. It’s not optional?

Chief Scott: Sometimes we do.

Phil Matter: Let’s move on to the fabric you only notice when it’s not there. Or sometimes you don’t notice it. For example, traffic cops and the traffic problem in San Francisco. Do we still have that many traffic cops?

Chief Scott: We do. I mean, our traffic company is down from what it used to be as well. There was a time when there were more than 70 motorcyclists who were called “solos”. It’s running around mid-40s and -50s now.

Phil Matter: Chief, as the number of police has dropped, what about the needs? What about calls and service needs? We have side shows now – we didn’t have 10 years ago. We have rampant drug trafficking. We have armed robbery. We have free-form shoplifting. All of these things, they’re going to seem to be going up as the police numbers go down. What is the effect?

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Chief Scott: Well, the effect is tense policing. And you know, we can’t be everywhere all the time. We have to do our best with what we have. But we must also be efficient with our resources. You have a shrinking workforce with an increasing call load and the community is demanding. In most of the community meetings that I go to, people are really demanding to see police officers in their neighborhood — especially in the commercial corridors, the tourist areas. They want to see visible agents because we don’t want people going to our most popular locations in San Francisco — whether they’re people who live here or are visiting here — and have their car or getting robbed and all those things. So there is a strong demand.

Phil Matter: Well, speaking of challenges, I understand that in June over 50 officers retired or left the department, some to go to other departments. How many came? How many graduates from your recruit class?

Chief Scott: The rookie classes have been small lately, and we’re looking. There’s a class that had, I think, 13 officers and one had 19. And we have between 25 and 30 in the academy and usually about 80% of them go through the academies.

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Phil Matter: If we have 20, 30 or 40 a month leaving for some reason. And we have 13 to 20 coming in, the math is not in your favor.

Chief Scott: No, and that’s one of our top priorities right now, not just to hire, but to retain. This pace has accelerated over the past two years, as there are more departures than arrivals. One of our main priorities is to turn the tide.

Phil Matter: What is the impact on policing and apprehending the bad guys, whether it’s someone running a red light, someone stealing from a store, or someone shoot someone?

Chief Scott: Service calls, we have response time targets, and we try to get our highest priority calls — which we call priority A — within eight minutes. When you don’t have enough agents to handle the call load, response time typically increases. We have seen our response time accelerate over the past two years.

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