The fierce debate over the city’s $11 billion budget continued this week, as supervisors on the Budget and Finance Committee took aim at the San Francisco Police Department. A conversation around whether or not to support SFPD’s request for two new training academy classes — budgeted at a whopping $7 million each — began Friday, continued Monday, and was further extended to Wednesday, as Supervisors Malia Cohen, Norman Yee, and Sandra Lee Fewer interrogated Chief Bill Scott about why exactly the force needed 250 more officers.
In the midst of this heated battle another, arguably just as important decision was made — remarkably, in a mere few minutes. Supervisors voted 3-2 to withdraw $2 million of Mayor Mark Farrell’s budget dedicated to purchasing tasers. Another $1 million reserved for buying more supplies in the following fiscal year was placed on hold.
In doing so, Cohen, Yee, and Fewer neatly put a pin in years of work by SFPD, the Police Officers Association, and the Police Commission, all of which have fought hard for the right to equip officers with the weapons.
Despite significant public opposition, the Police Commission approved tasers last November, although with stringent guidelines on training and the appropriateness of their use, and a hold on distributing them to officers until the end of 2018.
Monday’s Budget and Finance Committee vote makes that end-of-the-year goal impossible, and their reasoning appeared as a thinly veiled criticism of the department’s history with force.
Fewer cited cost-estimate discrepancies as her main reasons for not supporting the funding. SFPD requested $3 million total for the new equipment, but officials failed to provide an accurate estimate of exactly how much each weapon cost. They claimed a catch-22: There’s apparently no way to negotiate the price for a bulk order from a vendor without having the funds in hand, and yet the funds would not be handed over without understanding the true cost of the purchase. When interrogated further, a rough estimate was provided that each taser costs around $1,600.
In addition, based on Police Commission guidelines, officers cannot receive tasers until they’ve completed a total of 60 hours of training, something which only 900 officers (out of more than 2,000) have graduated from thus far. The goal is for each officer to eventually have a Taser in their arsenal.
Commander Peter Walsh told the supervisors that approving the budget was an important step in completing the training; each taser company has different instructions for how to use the weapons that would have to be rolled out to those officers — something he says would take an additional six to 10 hours per officer.
“We are not allowed to start this until December 2018, which gives us a lead up to have that training ready to go,” Walsh said. “It’s going to be stepped and measured as a gradual rollout.”
His argument fell on deaf ears. “We don’t know the true cost of it yet,” Fewer said. “We want to get everyone on board for training first and then we can implement this. I don’t think we are ready to.”
She made a motion to remove the $2 million from the SFPD’s budget earmarked for tasers, and hold $1 million for next fiscal year pending review. Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Jeff Sheehy opposed the motion, but it passed with Cohen and Yee’s support.
With that single vote, the police department’s Taser policy is now on hold. And with the impending reshuffling of the Board of Supervisors and subsequently, each committee, it remains to be seen if SFPD will face a friendlier lineup when the budget comes under review next year.
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