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Unarmed civilians to replace San Francisco police on some 911 calls amid cop shortage

San Francisco Police (torbakhopper/Flickr)
December 23, 2020

The San Francisco Police Officers Association signed a plan with the city earlier this month that allows unarmed civilian service providers to handle 17 types of calls to the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD).

The police union agreed to the new strategy within weeks of city voters passing legislation that eliminated minimum staffing requirements for the SFPD, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Civilian responders will be able to respond to calls involving mental health, non-violent crimes and homelessness.

“Currently, police officers are the initial responders and primary resource on certain calls for service that may be better suited to mental health or non-law enforcement professionals,” POA President Tony Montoya said in the letter.

Unarmed citizen responders will also handle juvenile disturbances, quality-of-life calls, traffic congestion, public health violations, dog complaints and parking violations.

“This will be a better use of the limited resources we have,” Montoya conceded. “It’s going to free up more officers to do what traditionally police officers should be doing.”

Prior to the vote, the police union said the department was struggling to cover 911 calls amid chronic understaffing.

“Our response times to 911 calls are lagging because we don’t have enough people on patrol,” POA Vice President Sergeant Tracy McCray told the Chronicle last month.

Officers have been leaving the SFPD in droves, with many choosing to pursue work in other areas.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors also voted in favor of postponing pay increases for the police department, but officers will receive larger raises down the road as part of a two-year labor contract, the Chronicle reported.

“[It] does nothing to address the POA’s unrelenting history of delaying much needed reforms,” said Supervisor Dean Preston, who criticized the outcome after voting against the new contract, the San Francisco Examiner reported. “The SFPD will not be meaningfully reformed if [the city’s human resources department] and the mayor continue to offer more pay raises to the SFPOA and ask for nothing in return.”

According to NPR, San Francisco Fire Department Captain Simon Pang said the civilian response plan is a “glaringly obvious” step in the right direction.

“It’s glaringly obvious we need to change the model,” Pang declared. “[Police are] handling these calls the best they can, but the fact remains that because of the traditional system, which is in place out of inertia, you have law enforcement officers responding to nonviolent, noncriminal calls for service for people whose needs are largely social, behavioral or mental.”

“That’s just not right,” he continued. “The time is now to rethink the entire process so that we can get personnel who are better suited to help people.”

KGO reported that earlier this year, the city’s major London Breen revealed her plan to defund the sheriff’s department and SFPD by $120 million, diverting the money to the “black community.”

“With this budget, we are listening to the community and prioritizing investments in the African American community around housing, mental health and wellness, workforce development, economic justice, education, advocacy and accountability,” Breed said.