The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget Finance Committee began hearings for the approval of Mayor Ed Lee's 2012-2014 budget plan Monday, which would include increased funding for training and hiring police, emergency medical technicians, and fire personnel.
The plan would use more than $35 million to fund six new police academy classes and two fire academy classes over the next two years as a large number of veteran officers and firefighters retire. The San Francisco Police Department Academy hasn't offered classes for the last three years.
Initial hearings revealed the Board was reluctant to fully approve the plan, citing concerns about the new state budget approved by the California Legislature June 15 and Governor Jerry Brown's tax package awaiting voter approval on the November ballot. The city relies on both state and federal funding, which currently supplies $1 for every $5 in the city's budget.
"It's very difficult at this point to guess what the future might hold related to the state, given the wild card of the revenue measure on the November ballot," San Francisco City Controller Ben Rosenfield told the budget committee.
A steady wave of retirements in both the police and fire departments has lead to a deficit in city-mandated staffing levels. Police Chief Greg Suhr told the San Francisco Examiner that the losses are due to the discontinuation of a program that let retirement-age officers work while collecting pension.
The plan would hire 300 officers from the new police classes over the next two years.
"At least this stops the bleeding," Suhr told the San Francisco Examiner. The SFPD's goal is to recalibrate and hit the mandated staffing level of 1,971 full-time officers by 2018. They are currently about 200 short, and an estimated 300 officers will retire between 2011-2014, and another 100 will retire in 2015.
Lee said in a press release that the move is needed to maintain the city's safety: "We have brought the City's violent crime rates to historic lows and implemented innovative crime prevention strategies to keep San Francisco the safest big city in our country."
"We must plan for the police force of the future to ensure we maintain these results." Violent crime has fallen 6 percent from last year and a total of 18 percent from 2008, according to a report by the Mayor's office.
In addition to the new hiring surge, Suhr pointed out that the long-term solution to any staffing deficits is through community policing efforts. Groups like San Francisco SAFE (Safety Awareness for Everyone) work with the SFPD to educate local citizens and organize Neighborhood Watch leaders.
The San Francisco Fire Department is encountering similar struggles as the police. "Our staffing levels have dropped significantly over the last few years as members continue to retire and funding for new hires has been scarce," said Mindy Talmadge, a public information officer for the SFFD. "Over the last couple of years a large number of members hit their 30-year mark and became eligible for retirement so our numbers dropped rapidly." Talmadge also said the plan would also help reduce costly overtime hours that have come as a result of the limited staffing.
But some in the department feel the plan doesn't go far enough. Talmadge said Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White wants an even more accelerated hiring program that would continue adding police and fire classes for another four years past the budget's current two-year scope. If the board approves Hayes-White's accelerated plan, the Fire Department would have funding for two classes per year, allowing a total of four classes to be offered within the current budget cycle.
Talmadge said Lee's plan is "good news for all of the firefighter hopefuls out there," especially since with San Francisco's high cost of living and 7.4 percent unemployment rate, the SFFD has "never been at a loss for potential recruits."