District 10 Supervisor Questions Police Department’s Response to Crime Trends

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District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen has called for a hearing to examine the San Francisco Police Department’s efforts to combat violent crime and automobile break-ins. In social media and local gathering places, Dogpatch and Potrero Hill residents have complained that SFPD has largely left it up to community members to deal with vehicle thefts, burglaries and smashed windows. Cohen, along with District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, will hold the hearing after the San Francisco Controller’s office reviews police staffing trends and determines the number of officers needed for the force to be effective. Wiener wants SFPD to tell residents what officers are doing to prevent crime. 

“We are currently short 300 officers per charter requirements of 1,971 officers,” said Mawuli Tugbenyoh, a Cohen aide. “Obviously our City is growing and we have a severe challenge with car break-ins and other crime.” According to the City Charter, the police department must maintain a staff of at least 1,971 full-duty sworn officers unless the Controller and Chief of Police “jointly certify” that a reduction won’t decrease the number of patrol, investigation and neighborhood community policing officers and “will not interfere with the delivery of police services or the ability of the Police Department to protect the public in the event of an emergency.” 

“It’s no question that the department has been understaffed for quite some time,” said police spokeswoman officer Grace Gatpandan. Gatpandan said the mayor has authorized the department to reach charter-mandated staffing levels by hiring 250 officers.  According to Gatpandan, roughly 315,000 people commute to the City daily, adding to the 830,000 resident population.  

The 1,971 figure may be outdated. It was a goal in 1971, according to Wiener and Cohen; legislators amended the charter section citing the figure more than a decade ago. Since that 2004 change, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that San Francisco’s population has grown by 91,144. Cohen and Wiener say the City will add 150,000 people between now and 2040. 

“With property crimes and auto break-ins, the majority of criminals on the street commit crimes of opportunity,” Gatpandan said. “If you park your vehicle, make sure nothing is visible. Even if something may not seem valuable to you, to a criminal, they might just break-in to find out what that item is.” Gatpandan said station investigators map the location of property crimes, with officers dispatched to areas with the greatest number of crimes. Police use a similar approach to prevent violent incidences. 

“Each station identifies ‘hot spots’ within their district based on where crimes are committed,” Gatpandan said, “and that information is passed on to the assigned beat officer. Investigators will take this info and also share it with other districts to see if there is a pattern.” Gatpandan said station investigation teams make extensive efforts to identify those responsible for violence and provide that information to uniform officers. Plainclothes investigation teams and the patrol bureau task force also work to bring violent criminals to justice, she said.