Examiner Editorial: Mandating foot patrols bad public policy 

If ever there was an unnecessary San Francisco voter referendum that will cause serious harm to public services and may actually be just a cover-up for childish political infighting, it’s the compulsory police foot patrol measure just approved by the Board of Supervisors for the November ballot.

The Police Department has fielded foot patrols from every district station since 2007, increasing the annual total of staffed walking shifts for three consecutive years. It was 23,022 foot beats in 2007, then 25,794 the next year and 26,212 in 2009. After city voters defeated a prior compulsory foot patrol measure in 2006, apparently rejecting claims that the Board of Supervisors had any business dictating operational tactics to the police chief, supervisors unilaterally approved a one-year pilot program mandating foot patrols. That test period has long since expired. But even without any municipal law ensuring it, the SFPD has continued staffing foot beats to this day.

True, it must be said that foot beat statistics for 2010 so far are a bit down from the prior two years. Through July 23, there were 11,750 shifts staffed. If the trend continues, foot patrolling hours for 2010 would not total much more than 20,000. However, with The City’s ongoing budget problems — leading to a reduction in the size of the police force and cuts to overtime — that’s not exactly surprising.

And, it’s the reason why ordering specific amounts of foot beats, especially now, would actually harm public safety enforcement. Like all city departments, the SFPD is facing budget cuts. No new Police Academy classes for incoming recruits are scheduled. The department expects another 78 officers to retire by July 2011. It’s been announced that up to 200 officers departing the SFPD through 2011 will not be replaced.

With no newly trained replacements on deck, officers assigned to walk rigidly mandated beats would be mostly veterans taken off duties requiring specialized experience — speedy emergency response and investigations, among others.

It’s widely understood around City Hall that establishing an official mandate for keeping foot patrols is only a secondary purpose. Contained in the measure’s language is a proviso that if the requirement gains more votes than Mayor Gavin Newsom’s sit-lie law, which also is on the November ballot, it would void passage of the sidewalk ordinance.

In other words, the needless and redundant foot patrols measure seems primarily a camouflaged gimmick to give the mayor’s Board of Supervisors enemies a better chance at blocking the sit-lie measure.

San Francisco voters need to be fully aware of what’s really going on so they can soundly defeat this cynical political con job.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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