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San Francisco Voters Will Decide On Abolishing Mandatory Staffing Levels For Police

Under current law, established during the “tough on crime” era, San Francisco mandated at least 1,971 full-time police officers. Voters will now have the opportunity to reconsider that mandate.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure today to let voters decide whether to overturn a law that says the San Francisco Police Department must employ a minimum of 1,971 full-time police officers. The proposed amendment to the city and county charter will be on the Nov. 3 ballot. 

In 1994, in the midst of the so-called tough-on-crime era, San Francisco voters approved Proposition D, which requires the city to maintain at least 1,971 full-time officers in the SFPD. That same year, California enacted its three strikes law, which mandated at least a 25 years to life sentence for a conviction of a third felony. 

If approved by voters, the new measure would abolish the mandatory staffing levels. Instead, the police department would have to submit a report and recommendation on staffing levels every two years to the San Francisco Police Commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor and Board of Supervisors. The commission sets police department policies and conducts disciplinary hearings; it will be required to consider the recommendations when approving the department’s proposed budget. Commissioners include, among others, a former federal prosecutor and former public defenders. 

“To create a thoughtful process for determining police staffing levels, we need to remove the handcuffs that this mandatory minimum staffing requirement has placed on San Franciscans — and on our budget — for years,” said Board President Norman Yee, a sponsor of the charter amendment, in a statement. . “It is time for us to take a forward-looking approach to public safety that will truly protect public safety for everyone in San Francisco.” (The Justice Collaborative provided assistance to Yee’s office with the Charter Amendment. The Appeal is an editorially independent project of The Justice Collaborative.)

The measure does not address two of the primary demands from protesters in California and throughout the country — to defund and abolish the police — or the long-standing history of police brutality perpetuated by the San Francisco Police Department. 

Between 2012 and 2016, the SFPD killed 15 people, 10 of them people of color, according to the Fatal Encounters database. In 2015, Mario Woods, a Black man, was walking away and holding a knife at his side when San Francisco police opened fire, hitting him with 20 bullets. No officers were charged in connection with his killing. Woods’s death sparked demonstrations, and activist and athlete Colin Kaepernick told Paper Magazine that Woods’s death helped inspire him to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem. 

Not all of the police department’s victims have died. On Jan. 6, 2017, SFPD officers Colin Patino and Kenneth Cha arrived at the home of Sean Moore. Moore’s neighbor, who had a temporary restraining order against him, had called police when he heard a knock on their shared wall. 

Moore, a Black man who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, told the officers to leave about 40 times, according to body camera footage. Cha pepper sprayed him. Patino then beat him with his baton, and Cha shot him twice. Moore survived his injuries and was charged with several offenses. All charges were later dropped. Moore, 46, was subsequently arrested for an unrelated incident. On Jan. 20, he was found unresponsive in his cell in San Quentin, and pronounced dead at 3:44 p.m. He was eligible for parole this year.