"Right now [SFPD] officers spend too much time on paperwork, which keeps them off our streets where they're needed most," says San Francisco Mayor London Breed. "We will change rules to lift excessive administrative burdens to free officers to focus on community policing and arresting those harming our neighborhoods."
Mayor Breed did a press event with SFPD Chief Bill Scott Tuesday morning in Alamo Square Park — chosen perhaps because it is one of the city's hotbeds of car-break-in activity targeting tourist vehicles. (There's also the nice backdrop of the Painted Ladies.) The event was to announce a ballot measure that Breed is putting on the ballot in March which will effectively take some power away from the SF Police Commission, and which aims to reduce police paperwork and give police more tools to combat crime.
Among those tools, Breed is proposing allowing police to deploy drones, and letting police install public surveillance cameras in order to combat crime and catch suspects. And the ballot measure would ease restrictions on vehicle pursuits in the city, allowing police to chase car burglars, for instance, so long as the pursuit is deemed "safe."
My Safer San Francisco measure does 3 things:— London Breed (@LondonBreed) October 17, 2023
-Gives police officers access to 21st century technology to do their jobs.
-Changes rules to get officers out on the street into our neighborhoods.
-Prevents the Police Commission from prioritizing ideology before community safety.
Currently, as the Chronicle notes, police policy says that officers can "safely apprehend a fleeing violator without unnecessarily endangering the public and/or officers." And the policy prohibits initiating a chase in the case of petty crimes, unless "there is an articulable reasonable belief that the individual needs to be immediately apprehended because of the risk that individual poses to public safety."
Vehicle pursuits by police, it should be noted, have resulted in some horrific deaths of innocent people in the Bay Area in the last couple of years. In one case in March 2023, a mother was killed and her twin boys were injured in Rodeo when a car-theft suspect being pursued by Hercules police smashed into her car at high speed. And in May in San Francisco, a 58-year-old man was killed and several others were injured as a result of an SFPD chase that ended in a crash at 16th and Potrero.
In the interest of reducing paperwork, Breed's proposed reforms would allow police to use bodycamera footage alone to document minor use-of-force incidents, with paper reports required only when an officer draws their gun. And when multiple officers are involved, only one officer will need to submit a report — current policy requires each officer to submit a separate report.
The ballot measure would also allow the SFPD to install surveillance cameras on public property under a one-year pilot program before they would need to seek sign-off from the Board of Supervisors. That sign-off is currently required under a 2019 ordinance passed by the board that banned facial-recognition technology and required board approval for all new surveillance installations.
"Right now, [SFPD] officers don’t have access to many 21st century tools that would help prevent and solve crimes including retail theft, auto theft, and car break-ins," Breed said in a statement. "We are going to change our policies to allow our officers to access these tools to better protect communities."
The ballot measure proposal again marks Breed's much-noted shift away from the Defund-the-Police days of 2020, in which she has recently become much more vocally pro-law enforcement. And this shift likely reflects her nervousness about getting reelected next year given recent poll numbers, and a general mood of discontentment in the city about crime, homelessness, drug dealing, and general street chaos in parts of downtown and the Tenderloin.
Breed has also long criticized the Police Commission for hamstringing the police in the interest of ideology, and requiring too many paper reports, and she said Tuesday that the ballot measure would address this. "We also must fix how our Police Commission governs and hold them accountable to putting the interest of public safety or best practices first," Breed said.
The measure, if passed, will require the commission to engage stakeholders, business owners, and retired police officers whenever they seek to make changes to police policy.
San Francisco's next election is March 5, 2024, and that is the election in which we will be voting in primaries for President and the Senate, as well as on this local ballot measure.