San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Wednesday she'll push for police academy classes and investment to recruit and retain officers in the upcoming city budget amid public safety concerns from residents and businesses.
Breed told business leaders Wednesday morning public safety "would be a top priority" in the budget she will propose to supervisors on June 1, according to a copy of the speech. She mentioned police are below recommended staffing levels.
"If you want your workers to feel safe, we need your help to advocate for police officers in this budget," she said, according to a draft speech she gave at a breakfast organized by the Chamber of Commerce. The Chronicle requested the draft but didn't attend the event. "Every year when I propose academy classes at the Board of Supervisors, there's a cut. We all have to change that."
Her promise to the business community comes little more than a week after she appointed police spokesperson Matt Dorsey as District Six supervisor, arguing he was the best pick to tackle crime and public drug dealing in some areas of the district. It's also on the cusp of a historic recall election that could oust progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin from office. Breed has turned to tough-on-crime rhetoric but also promised to help the city's most vulnerable while cracking down on quality-of-life problems.
Breed's spokesperson Jeff Cretan couldn't share details on any potential proposed increases to police funding before the budget is announced. With the city reporting a $15 million budget surplus over the next two years, it's likely all department budgets will go up, and the mayor's stated desire to invest in officers will undoubtedly cost more money.
The mayor could get pushback from the board — dominated by progressives — if she wants more academy classes and police funding, but supervisors are more likely to support filling vacant positions. Breed needs supervisors' support to pass the budget.
Last year, Breed clashed with some supervisors over police spending in the city's $13 billion budget before settling on a compromise that slightly reduced police spending the first year of the budget, but increased it the second year to add academy classes, though fewer than the mayor wanted. Critics of the mayor and advocates for defunding the police pushed back that more armed officers won't solve San Francisco's homelessness, mental health and addiction crises.
Supervisor Dean Preston voted against the budget last year because it increased police funding, saying the plan "missed opportunities when it comes to reallocating law enforcement dollars to more impactful community health and safety plans."
He did not respond to immediate request for comment Wednesday.
Upon hearing Breed's comments, Supervisor Aaron Peskin said it "sounds like she was giving the good old boys at the Chamber of Commerce the red meat they want."
He believed there wasn't a "great schism" between the mayor and board when it comes to filling already funded police department vacancies, as with unfilled positions across city government. He said "heck yes" he would support investment in recruitment and retention.
"You have these aspirational goals of throwing more money at any particular department, but it's just a paper game if those positions remain vacant," Peskin said. "If you're doing prudent, realistic budgeting, you have as many academy classes as you reasonably think you have applicants to fill."
Supervisor Shamann Walton didn't respond directly to the mayor's comments, but referred to a detailed public safety plan he created in his district that includes multiple city departments, including police and community groups to prevent violence.
Police funding is likely to be a debate at the board again this year. An outcry over viral and violent crimes spurred the recall election of progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin on June 7. If he is recalled, Breed will appoint his replacement, which means voters will likely put her on the hook for addressing public safety.
Breed also made the case Wednesday that downtown won't bounce back if workers don't feel comfortable returning to offices.
"I've had a number of conversations both with CEOs and the workforce. People love this City. But that love is mixed with concern. They want to feel safe when they come to work," she said.
The mayor said the police department is down to 1,719 officers — 463 officers short of levels recommended by a department-commission consultant — but experts debate how many officers the city needs.
A Chronicle analysis found San Francisco was one of the most highly policed cities in California, according to 2019 data, but police staffing has dropped since then.
Breed asked the board earlier this year for nearly $8 million in police overtime funding, then pulled the request two months later because there weren't enough officers to justify it.
While San Francisco officials have agreed to fund more police academy classes, they are struggling to recruit and fill them. Breed said in her speech Wednesday part of the reason she chose Dorsey is because "he's willing to fight not just to add academy classes, but also to fill them."
Political observers say Breed took a turn to the right as public safety became a pressing issue last year, leading to her vow to crack down on crime in December. She declared a 90-day emergency and eventually added more police officers in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood plagued by open air drug dealing and use.
In her speech Wednesday, Breed said the overdose crisis is both a public health and safety issue. She said the city would keep working on adding hundreds of treatment beds for mental health and addiction "but we also need arrests by the police, as well as prosecution and accountability for those selling drugs in our neighborhoods."
"Ideology cannot come before the basics of governing," she said.
Breed said the city should still pursue police reform and alternatives to policing, such as community ambassadors and mental health professionals to respond to people in crisis and investment in the root causes of crime.
"We don't have to choose," she said.
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