Put SFPD where needed most 

At a time when San Francisco is experiencing a near-record trend in increased homicides and violent crimes — while fielding some 250 fewer police than mandated by The City charter — it might seem odd that noless than 154 sworn officers are assigned to duty at San Francisco International Airport.

However, this is not as unreasonable as might appear. For one thing, the Airport Bureau is entirely funded by SFO revenues and costs nothing from The City’s general fund. And in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the federal Transportation Security Administration established minimum police staffing levels for all airports.

But with 25 homicides during the first quarter of 2007 already bloodying San Francisco, it is entirely appropriate that Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced a bill streamlining temporary reassignments of Airport Bureau police to city streets. The bill passed the Public Safety Committee on Monday and could go before the full Board of Supervisors next week.

Specifically, Mirkarimi would require police Chief Heather Fong and Airport Manager John Martin to develop a procedure for San Francisco to borrow officers from the airport "to respond to staffing shortages, increases in crime or violence or other circumstances that create a need for additional sworn personnel in the city and county."

Mirkarimi’s bill builds on a 2006 city controller report that found the Police Department’s semiautonomous Airport Bureau could save $2 million yearly just by fine-tuning the assignments and work shifts of its officers. However, the controller stopped short of recommending any airport bureau officers should permanently redeployed to The City.

Since the report, 34 extra airport police slots — which were unfilled and existed only on paper — have been written out of the SFO budget. The bureau now has 166 allotted positions, of which 154 are filled. The SFPD employs 1,706 officers, even though since 1994 the city charter required a minimum staffing level of 1,971 officers, not including Airport Bureau personnel.

It is too early to estimate how many airport police might be redeployed or how long they might be patrolling troubled San Francisco neighborhoods such as the Bayview, Mission and Western Addition. Airport Bureau Cmdr. Jim Lynch declined to reveal SFO’s federally mandated staffing minimums, citing security concerns. But Mirkarimi insisted Monday that "we haven’t come close" to falling below Homeland Security requirements.

Opening the way for San Francisco police officers to be easily transferred between the airport and city streets is no substitute for actually having sufficient staff. For example, assigning airport officers to a wider range of duties could increase costly overtime.

However, Mirkarimi’s bill makes a constructive compromise to improve a situation where there are not enough police to fulfill required staffing levels in The City and at SFO.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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