San Francisco Police Commission Meeting 2/3/2021 Summary

The San Francisco Police Commission oversees the policy, top leadership and aspects of budget decisions of the San Francisco Police Department. The Board of Supervisors, which appoints some of the commissioners, ultimately controls the budget of the department. I live tweet meetings at #sfpolicecommission, along with a few other dedicated watchdogs. Below is a high-level summary of the most recent meeting. Any factual mistakes are my own.

2/3/2021 Meeting Documents 

The Opening of the SFPD Budget Battle

Last night's meeting was the relatively quiet opening salvo of the battle over the next SFPD budget. There were a few other presentations calendared, including the Q4 2020 Traffic Unit update, but they were examples of the need for budget and agenda reform, more than anything else. If reducing gun violence is one of the top priorities for SFPD this year, then you'd think there'd be a standing line item on a) why gun violence continues to increase (with an emphasis on community voices) b) what is and is not working to address those root causes and c) how the SFPD is realigning their massive resources to invest in strategies that work. To date, there has been no such discussion. The Commissioners seem more comfortable asking occasional questions about property crime. Which, great. The body can use the same process to drill down on property crime strategy. There's plenty of room for improvement there, too.

Takeaway Question: If we don't understand the core of what SFPD is supposed to be doing every day on the streets and whether or not it works, how can we possibly oversee and improve the agency? Even the people who want more policing, like the Hotel Council, agree that cops driving around in their cars all day, patrolling like sharks, isn't working. But that's what we're mostly spending ~$700M on every year.

Making More of the Department of Police Accountability

Every Police Commission meeting has a standing item for updates on progress from the Department of Police Accountability. Unfortunately, the presentation is largely a collection of disembodied input numbers and a list of people and groups that the agency leadership has met with recently. It's ... not all that meaningful. So I appreciate that President Cohen began asking questions about specific complaints listed in the DPA report compilation. I hope that the Commission as a body will also ask Director Henderson to rethink his presentations to include a dashboard on progress of ridding the agency (and profession) of violent and/or biased officers, estimated levels of biased and/or violent officers in the agency remaining and status of the implementation of the many policy recommendations DPA has given the SFPD over the years based on community feedback. There is a rich back and forth between Chief Scott and the Department of Police Accountability about the DPA's policy recommendations following their audit of the murder of Mario Woods in 2015. Presumably these conversations and recommended reforms are exactly why we have a separate oversight agency for SFPD. Yet, we aren't discussing the recommendations at the Police Commission--ever. Has the SFPD even made the Commission aware of these documents and recommendations? 

Budget, Oy

OK, so the first thing to know about the SFPD budget is that past Police Commissions apparently barely looked at the thing before passing it along for approval to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors. So when Commissioner Brookter and President Cohen say that they're working behind the scenes to examine the budget in detail, this is huge progress, albeit from a very, very low bar. Yet, I was legitimately surprised by the total silence from a number of commissioners on the budget, and that questions from other commissioners who normally are on top of the minutiae of the SFPD displayed little understanding of the document. I can only conclude that most commissioners know almost nothing about the agency's budget. It's shocking. I can't think of a company or organization that I've joined, even in a relatively informal way, whose budget I didn't immediately read so that I could understand what I was doing.

In any event, I'm glad to see some progress being made in basic budget awareness at the Police Commission. It will help given that the SFPD is making a very overt political play to ask for a budget increase in FY2023 by dangling reform in front of decision makers and threatening service cuts. The Hotel Council and its members called in to ask for more foot patrol officers and technology in the budget. Advocates for the unhoused, and Starchild, called in to ask for a massive defunding of the police and re-funding of the tiny CART program as well as other community investment programs. It was a classic San Francisco political moment. 

Here's the thing, though, if you're an elected official trying to make nice and stay in office in moderate districts, there's no way you're going to be able to appease both struggling businesses and communities worried about a perceived increase in crime and fulfill the strong citywide desire to continue to disinvest in policing, without questioning the core of police operations. Is throwing more money at cops driving around cars and motorcycles all day going to do anything beyond starve more effective strategies? How much of what they do is shark patrolling? Is that remotely effective, or cost effective? How quickly and thoroughly can it change?

Is anyone in charge ready to poke some sacred cows?


Before you go, take action! Volunteer for/donate to Wealth and Disparities In The Black Community, founded and led by Phelicia Jones. WDBC has been working on police reform and justice for victims of police violence since the SFPD murdered Mario Woods back in 2015.

Previous SF Police Commission Meeting