By Ian Firstenberg
(SAN FRANCISCO) Voters in San Francisco supported increasing officer presence, as well as the number of officers, in busy areas along with a focus on community policing, according to a new survey released by the City's Chamber of Commerce.
According to the survey, 76 percent of voters agree that increasing the number of officers in high crime areas is a high priority. Similarly, the same percentage of voters viewed expanding community-based police work, as a high priority.
The wide support for both approaches highlights a fundamental contradiction surrounding policing in liberal cities. Despite the popularity of political slogans like "Defund the Police," the majority of voters in San Francisco, 60 percent according to the recent survey, want to maintain funding for police academy classes.
In part, these survey numbers reflect the discrepancies between voters surveyed and the total number of voters in San Francisco.
According to The San Francisco Survey, a nonprofit project with data collected by EMC Research, Crime/Public Safety ranked among the top three issues for the City for just 27 percent of residents in April of 2020. This number highlights the contradiction in the Chamber of Commerce survey. While crime and safety are certainly among the hot-button issues for residents, housing, cost of living and homeless all ranked substantially higher.
Notably, an additional report from The San Francisco Survey indicated that homelessness was overwhelmingly the biggest concern among residents. Crime was viewed as the top ranked issue by 11 percent of those surveyed.
In early May 2021, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced the city would reinvest $3.75 million from its police budget into local Black businesses and entrepreneurs, as a part of the Dream Keeper Initiative announced in 2020.
Last week, SF Weekly revealed that despite this claim of reinvest from Mayor Breed, no such reallocation has happened and the Dream Keeper Initiative is now being paid for from the city's General Fund.
According to Breed's budget proposal, released June 1, the Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's office, adult and juvenile detention center budgets are all slated to increase. Notably, all of the institutions will see increased funding coming from the city's General Fund as a way to offset smaller financial draws from taxes.
The proposed 2021-2022 budget allocates roughly $6 million less for the San Francisco Police Department, from $668 million to $661 million due to a decreased need for police at the airport. However, the budget notes that the police budget would increase substantially the following year to $689 million, just three million dollars off from the its largest budget in FY 2019-2020 of $692 million.
In total, the proposed budget increases law enforcement spending from the General Fund by nearly $50 million, with the Sheriff's department raking in roughly half that. The Sheriff's department budget is expected to go up to $270 million.
“Last year, we reduced General Fund support to law enforcement departments, which allowed for these initiatives [the Dream Keeper Initiative] to be created and funded, while also closing a projected $1.5 billion budget shortfall,” Lynch wrote in an email to the SF Weekly. “We’re continuing the funding for the Dream Keeper programs through the General Fund in this budget proposal.”
This flip-flopping by city officials comes in the wake of continued protest against swollen police budgets in cities throughout the Bay Area.
“Many departments, including law enforcement departments, have an increased budget this year compared to last year as revenues are projected to increase as the City benefits from additional state and federal support," Lynch told the Weekly.
This conflict between liberal leaders' statements and their political actions often leaves voters feeling unheard or disconnected from the political reality of the City.
As San Francisco and the rest of California's cities crawl out of the economic cradle created by the pandemic, working people and the growing underclass will require more financial assistance to regain stability. Increased police funding will only exacerbate the current issues of the city. In order to solve the problems of San Francisco, city officials need to reinvest in the City's workers, not its law enforcement.
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