Seven sworn officers are being transferred from patrolling city streets to working at San Francisco International Airport in preparation for the opening of a new terminal.
The transfer of the seven cops, along with 12 civilian police aides, will further reduce the number of sworn officers available to respond to crime in The City. The move comes at a time when police are combating what they have described as a gang war in the Mission and dealing with a homicide rate that, through Feb. 26, is 67 percent higher than the same time last year.
But spokesmen for police and the airport said it is necessary to accommodate a surge in passengers expected with the opening of Terminal 2 in April.
“Part of the obligation we took on when we took over the airport is to adequately staff it,” said police spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield.
Because of The City’s budget woes, the police department is already bracing for a big hit to the number of full-duty sworn officers available to respond to 911 calls. With a 10 percent cut to SFPD’s budget, as requested by Mayor Ed Lee, that would mean up to 185 layoffs, according to Deborah Landis, interim budget manager for the Police Department. Budget cuts have already claimed academy classes, meaning there will be no new officers to replace an estimated 300 officers who are eligible to retire by next year.
There are currently 2,223 sworn officers in the department — down from 2,304 in January, Dangerfield said. More than 150 are assigned to patrol the airport, and dozens more are assigned to administrative tasks instead of patrolling the streets.
“It’s said that there’s more than 2,200 cops on the force, but when you go to lineup, it’s like there’s nobody there,” said Police Officers Association Vice President Kevin Martin, talking about the daily meetings at district stations. “We would like to see more officers assigned to patrol.”
But the airport is required to have a certain level of law enforcement staffing because of Transportation Security Administration guidelines, according to SFO spokesman Michael McCarron.
“This is no surprise,” McCarron said. “We worked on this with the Police Department two years ago. Everyone’s agreed on it and this is required for the airport.”
Transferring SFPD staff to the airport also provides a budgetary advantage for the Police Department. Since the airport is an enterprise department funded by airlines and concessionaires, SFO can afford to pay the salaries of 19 staff members, which amounts to about $1 million.
While the TSA does not have a minimum-staffing mandate, it does require that a law enforcement plan is in place, according to TSA spokesman Nico Melendez. The duties performed by officers include directing traffic and parking, managing security checkpoints and using K9 units.
“The TSA is charged with approving the airport security plan and how that plan is carried out,” Melendez said. “How they do that is up to the airport.”
Fewer officers are patrolling the streets, and there are fewer academy students to replace retiring officers.
7 Officers transferred to SFO
12 Civilian SFPD aides transferred to airport
8 Officers placed on desk jobs after misconduct probe
2,304 SFPD sworn officers in January
2,223 SFPD sworn officers in March
155 Patrol officers now assigned to airport