Foot Patrol Vote a Major Defeat for Newsom

by Paul Hogarth on November 15, 2006

For the first time since Gavin Newsom became Mayor, the Board of Supervisors successfully voted to override a mayoral veto. By a 9-2 vote, the Board approved Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s legislation mandating the Police to have foot patrols in neighborhoods citywide. Despite Police Chief Heather Fong’s last-minute announcement that she will initiate a series of foot patrols before the end of the month, Supervisors stressed that the Police Department needed to be held accountable. In fact, more Supervisors voted this time around to override the veto than had originally supported the legislation – as Board President Aaron Peskin publicly switched his vote. This was a victory for community members who had demanded police foot patrols for years, a triumph for the Supervisors who have proven their political muscle and independence, and a stunning defeat for the Mayor – who was already the biggest loser in last week’s local elections.

At 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before the Election, Mayor Newsom vetoed the legislation. Although it had originally passed by an 8-3 veto-proof majority, the media immediately started asking if enough Supervisors would stick behind their support, stand up to the Mayor and override the veto. On November 3rd, Jake McGoldrick told the San Francisco Sentinel that he was open to changing his mind. According to Fog City Journal, insiders speculated that Bevan Dufty was a possible flip-flop – and others speculated that Fiona Ma would switch her vote. Incredibly, some even suggested that Sophie Maxwell would turn against it – although she was one of the legislation’s co-sponsors.

All this was just media hype – as activists from the Central City SRO Collaborative, La Voz Latina, and the Coalition on Homelessness soon found out when they went to City Hall that morning to lobby the “wavering” Supervisors. At a 10:00 a.m. press conference, organizer Alysabeth Alexander said that the Supervisors should mandate police foot patrols – regardless of the Police Chief’s promise that they were going to do it anyway. “If she was against this before, how do we know it’s going to happen now,” she said. “We need to have real community input and dialogue with the police. Otherwise, it just becomes a game of cat-and-mouse.”

After a pep talk from Alexander, eighteen community members visited the offices of five targeted Supervisors, with a designated speaker chosen for each individual meeting. None of the Supervisors were available to meet, but their aides responded to questions about how the vote would play out. “She is still very supportive of the legislation,” said Frances Hsieh, aide to Fiona Ma. “Foot patrols have worked well in our neighborhood and the feedback has been great. It makes a visible difference.”

“We definitely agree with the accountability component of the legislation,” said Connie Chan, an aide to Sophie Maxwell. “Be certain that she still supports it, and we’re standing by the legislation because it’s a mandate.” Police foot patrols have been a success in other parts of the country at providing real steps towards crime prevention, and even the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation supports foot patrols as an effective means to “anchor the police in the community.”

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, himself a graduate of the Police Academy, had worked for months to build consensus in creating this pilot program. “I originally showed this legislation to the Mayor and the Police Chief for feedback,” he explained at the full Board meeting, “and it got unanimous support from the Police Commission, the Small Business Commission, and the Committee to End Gun and Gang Violence. The Police Captains have complete discretion in how to implement this program, but it also calls for an accountability mechanism aimed at the Department.”

In his veto, Mayor Newsom criticized the Supervisors for telling the Police what to do, but even some of his traditional allies on the Board believed that this legislation was appropriate. “It’s false to say that we are intruding on the Police Department,” said Bevan Dufty. “The fact is that we are not seeing the level of attention from the Police that our community truly needs. I ask that our political leaders in this City not make this a political issue. All of us have a responsibility to work together.”

At the Board meeting in October when Supervisors originally passed the legislation, Police Chief Heather Fong said that it would not be feasible to implement this program right away without serious staffing issues. In response, Mirkarimi agreed to delay its effect until January 1st. But at her press conference this week, Fong announced that the Police Department would begin foot patrols on November 24th. “If this is not playing politics,” said Supervisor Chris Daly, “it’s playing fast and loose with the facts.”

Foot patrols have become a political issue, but Supervisors made it clear that they were simply responding to their constituents’ basic needs. “The people in my district want and deserve something,” said Sophie Maxwell, who represents Bayview-Hunters Point. “They want to see policemen. They say that seeing police officers on the street makes them feel safe.” Maxwell then added that the Board’s mandate was not mutually exclusive with the Police Chief’s latest plans to implement foot patrols.

“It’s not a political issue,” said Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, “it’s a human issue, a social issue and a community issue. We need action – not reaction.” Or as Supervisor Aaron Peskin put it, “You can’t stand up and say ‘I’m going to do it anyway’ without some measure of accountability. This policy has already been embraced by the Chief of Police, so the Board of Supervisors should make it into law.” Only Sean Elsbernd and Michela Alioto-Pier voted against it.

In other news, the Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 (with the exact same break-down as the foot patrol legislation) to approve Aaron Peskin’s amendments to the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. This legislation was designed to prevent abuses such as 1030 Post Street, where the landlords claim that their federal tax break exempts them from rent control.

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