In 2022, the city budgeted for 2,023 positions for police officers, marking the lowest numbers since at least 2004, according to city budget documents.
The Eye-Popping Salary of a Police Sergeant
In 2023, the third highest-paid city/county of San Francisco employee was a police sergeant who made $587,059, mainly due to an astonishing $356,378 in overtime.
The Overtime Conundrum
The soaring overtime costs within the police department are primarily attributed to what the city has termed perennial staffing shortages.
A Dwindling Force
The budgeted positions within the police department have reached their lowest levels since 2004, as indicated by city budget documents.
Seeking Voter Approval
The board of supervisors considered the possibility of presenting a charter amendment for approval by voters at a March 5, 2024, election.
This amendment would aim to establish minimum staffing levels for the police force. This concept was rejected by voters in 2020.
Unprecedented Low Point
As of September 2023, the city reported having only 1,578 full-duty sworn members in its police force.
According to the department’s assessment, this number is an unprecedented low point in recent history, and it is approximately 600 officers less than deemed necessary to fulfill the city’s public safety requirements.
Fierce Competition for Talent
The city cited its struggles competing with the compensation offered by other police departments during recruitment efforts.
For instance, the city of Alameda had recently started providing a $75,000 recruiting bonus for new hires.
Salaries for San Francisco Police Officers
The starting annual salary for a San Francisco police officer in 2023 was $103,116. After seven years of service, an officer could make $147,628 per year, as stated on their official website. These figures do not include overtime.
The High Price of Overtime
During the 2023 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, five city police officers accrued more than $300,000 each in overtime pay.
The Ongoing Struggles
The perennial staffing shortages and financial incentives offered by other departments made it difficult for San Francisco to maintain its police force at desired levels.
Public Opinion and Voter Rejection
The proposal to establish minimum staffing levels for the police department, while deemed necessary by some, faced voter rejection in 2020, and its fate in 2024 remains uncertain.
Overtime’s Pervasive Role
The massive overtime expenditures in the police department served as a testament to the severity of the staffing shortages and the city’s struggle to maintain law enforcement services.
Los Angeles County’s Zero Bail Policy
Meanwhile, 29 cities and counting in Los Angeles County are suing the county over its zero bail policy that went into effect at the beginning of the month as the result of another lawsuit.
In their lawsuit, the cities allege the new policy, implemented on October 1, does not “take into consideration the protection of the public, the safety of the victim, the seriousness of the offense charged, the previous criminal record of the defendant, and the probability of his or her appearing at the trial or hearing of the case.”
Impact on Offenses
Under the new bail schedule, assault, stalking, domestic battery, and violation of a protective order will still require cash bail.
In contrast, human trafficking, battery of a peace officer, and sex with a minor will trigger a judicial review.
However, most individuals arrested for most offenses will either be cited and released at the site of their arrest or booked and released at the law enforcement office with orders to appear in court for arraignment on a set date.
Support for Zero Cash Bail
In response to the lawsuit, Associate Director Claire Simonich of Vera California, the state branch of the national criminal justice reform organization the Vera Institute of Justice, told The Center Square that the data does not support what its opponents say and that zero-cash-bail is a safe and effective criminal policy.
“A similar version of the policy has been in effect on and off for the last three years in Los Angeles County. Violent crime and property crime effectively dropped or remained unchanged compared to the two years before the policy was in place.”
Los Angeles County initially instituted a zero-bail policy to reduce incarceration-driven COVID-19 infections during the pandemic.
After ending the policy, Los Angeles County was ordered to re-adopt the policy due to “dismal” pre-trial detention conditions.
Challenges to the Policy
A broad coalition has emerged challenging the policy, ranging from Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna to Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, a leading candidate challenging Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon in the 2024 election.
Concerns Over Public Safety
“Our communities have not been shy about telling us how nervous they are about this change,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors regarding the policy.
“Crime victims who see offenders immediately released from custody are left with little confidence in the criminal justice system. I understand the need to respect the constitutional rights of arrestees, but zero bail can demoralize deputies and police officers who work hard to make arrests, only to watch the offender walk away with a citation as the victim looks on in disbelief.”
Balancing Public Safety
“The total number of cities now suing over LA County’s $0 bail policy has reached 29. All of us want a bail policy that is fair and just for every resident of LA County. That, however, should be done in collaboration with the 88 cities and their residents, victim groups, and law enforcement agencies that are going to be directly affected by immediately releasing individuals who are arrested for crimes,” said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, who is running against Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon in the 2024 election, to The Center Square.
“No one supports oppressive bail. However, most of us don’t support repeat offenders who have been negatively impacted.”
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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Sheila Fitzgerald.