Mayor vetoes foot patrol bill 

Key supe backing measure wavers as Newsom seeks ways to increase beat cops

While announcing new efforts to put more police officers on foot patrol, Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation Friday that would require minimum staffing levels for the beat cops in the majority of The City’s police districts.

Newsom’s move is the latest in one of the most calculated political battles of the year with the Board of Supervisors. Last month, the legislative body voted 7-3 in support of the measure, which was authored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. Newsom’s rejection of the legislation, which came at thefinal hour of a legal deadline for the mayor to sign or veto, came on the heels on announcement by Supervisor Jake McGolderick in which he said he would not vote to override the veto.

McGolderick had previously supported the legislation and his announcement leaves the board one vote shy of a veto override and hands Newsom a victory. A mayoral veto can be reversed with eight votes on the Board of Supervisors.

Mirkarimi has promoted foot patrols as a possible solution to the increased levels of violence that San Francisco has seen in recent years. To date, there have been 75 homicides in The City this year, and last year there was a record-setting high of 96 murders.

After hearing about Newsom’s veto, Mirkarimi said the mayor has repeatedly ignored his requests for more beat patrols.

"Now he’s making it sound like beat patrols have always been available, but it’s a question of continuity. It doesn’t help if an officer’s on a beat patrol for 15 minutes," said Mirkarimi, who represents a high-crime area, District 5. "The bottom line is people don’t feel safe in San Francisco."

On Friday, McGoldrick said he might not vote to override the veto, since Newsom was now trying to find ways to increase foot patrols.

"I think one of the reasons for the legislation was that people felt there was not enough leadership coming out of the Mayor’s Office in terms of a response to requests for community policing," McGoldrick said. "If the mayor’s got a realistic plan or alternative, then we can go back and revisit this thing. I don’t think we should micromanage the department."

The Police Department has opposed the legislation, saying it would reduce the numbers of police officers in patrol cars, increasing response times to violent crimes by as much as 33 percent.

"I’ve always been committed to foot patrols, but the key is the staffing," police Chief Heather Fong said on Friday. "What we don’t want to do is rob Peter to pay Paul. There’s a role for police officers in radio cars and that’s emergency response."

The Police Department — which has a voter-mandated staffing level of 1,971 — is understaffed by more than 200 officers.

Under the legislation, about 33 officers each day would be required to spend their shift walking a beat in eight of The City’s 10 police stations. The legislation would not go into effect until after Jan. 1, when the Police Department has said it will have more officers hired and others moved off of jobs that could be done by civilians. A total of 44 police officers will be redeployed to foot patrols citywide by the end of the year, Newsom announced Friday.

Mirkarimi called Newsom's announcement "shameful," since it came hand in hand with the veto of his legislation. "The mayor is stealing someone else’s idea, and that’s politics," he said.

S.F. has goal to move officers out of offices and onto streets

In order to boost the number of police officers patrolling San Francisco’s streets, The City has been aggressively recruiting to get new officers on board while looking at ways to move existing officers out of desk jobs.

In 2004, San Francisco voters approved a measure requiring the Police Department to replace sworn, full-duty police officers working in clerical or administrative positions with civilians who could do the same job at a lower cost to The City. Civilianizing positions within the Police Department would then put those officers on the streets, where their training would be better utilized.

"These maybe are officers who were, let’s say, sitting in the station, in the front, answering phones," Chief Heather Fong said. "There are officers who are dealing with the cars in the station, shuttling them back and forth, making sure they work. We’re civilianizing that to automotive service workers that will free us up on officers to do patrol duties."

Within the next two months, 23 officers will be transferred to patrol duty under the civilianization effort, according to Fong.

Since 2004, a total of 74 positions within the department were pinpointed for civilianization. Until now, only five were replaced with nonpolice personnel, according to department spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens, who added that this year’s police budget will allow up to 42 officers to be put out on patrol.

Civilianization is an "important good government issue and important public safety issue," said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a public policy group.

"You can look at this two ways — you want sworn officers to be doing real police work, and from a fiscally responsible perspective, we don’t want to be paying public safety wages for people who aren’t doing public safety work," Metcalf said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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