Mayor Ed Lee’s refusal to help fund a task force formed by District Attorney George Gascon to investigate 14 police officers caught sending racist text messages is just one example of his miserly funding when it comes to the District Attorney’s Office, according to department officials.
Moreover the move, say critics, is another sign of Lee’s lack of leadership when it comes to rebuilding the public trust in the police in the wake of a series of recent law enforcement scandals.
“We didn’t get anything,” said Max Szabo, District Attorney’s Office spokesman, who added that nearly all of the office’s budget requests were denied, not just the funding for the task force. “There appears to be a difference of opinion as to whether ensuring the integrity of our justice system deserves adequate funding.”
Specifically, last week Lee’s $8.9 billion proposed budget didn’t include $383,315 requested by the District Attorney’s Office to help pay for the task force. Lee told KQED he didn’t want to fund something that pits departments against one another. Still, while not all the DA’s budget requests were approved, the department did get a $2.7 million increase. That number, says Szabo, will go mostly to pay for cost of living increases, mandated pay increases and the like. The money will not expand programs or fill more than three new positions.
Compared to the police department’s budget, the new funds are paltry, said Szabo, who added the District Attorney’s Office is understaffed and overworked to such an extent two attorneys collapsed on the job this past year.
“Putting more officers on the street is great, and it certainly sounds great, but it’s not the only way to increase public safety. The nature of policing is that the work is predominantly reactive. By contrast we sought funding to employ strategies that will enable us to proactively target those criminals that are responsible for the majority of crime,” said Szabo.
But the proposed budget — which the mayor said was in fact a very strong commitment to law enforcement and building public trust — includes an increase of about $30 million to fund five police academy classes, police body cameras and increased police oversight. Gascon in late March formed the task force that’s investigating the text message scandal. Separately, the task force will look into allegations of staged fights in County Jail, and issues in the police crime lab.
One of the main aims of the task force is to look into about 3,000 cases to make sure no convictions were tainted by the 14 officers caught up in the text message affair. Much of that work is being done by the District Attorney’s Office’s Trial Integrity Unit.
The Trial Integrity Unit, says Lee’s office, was funded by the Mayor’s Office in 2010 due to the crime lab scandal, and the unit still exists.
Critics of Lee’s move say the mayor’s budget is a sign of his priorities — and while Lee generously increased the police budget, the same has not been done for the District Attorney’s Office.
“I haven’t seen the mayor take much of a lead on fair policing and accountability,” said Supervisor John Avalos, who noted that just a few years ago the mayor was promoting controversial stop and frisk policing. “He has said nothing about the crisis in policing that African Americans and people of color ... are experiencing around the country and are experiencing here.”
Supervisor David Campos said Lee’s decision is concerning since it’s important to get to the bottom of what happened regarding the text messages. “This is about making sure there is a full investigation of what happened,” he said, noting that the mayor’s office has kept mostly silent on an issue that won’t disappear as long as the public’s trust is questioned. “That trust won’t develop unless there is full accountability.” The District Attorney’s Office’s budget request, along with the mayor’s budget will come before the budget committee this month, where a case can be made for the funding.