Guest Editorial: Cops, Not Care

by Rob Arnow on January 27, 2005

Newsom cut essential services including health care, public transit, street cleaning, and recreation centers, claiming he had no other choice. However, soon after Newsom committed to hiring 150 more police officers. Yet this wasn’t good enough for the police department, which countered by requesting 450 more officers be hired. Newsom should publicly refuse the police departments’ proposal, and the Mayor deserves to be challenged on his willingness to hire any more officers at all in the midst of San Francisco’s severe budget crisis.

On Jan. 15, 2005, major budget cuts went into effect in San Francisco resulting from a $64 million annual budget shortfall. The budget, which is crafted primarily by the Mayor, saw cuts in street cleaning, mental health, AIDS support services, pot-hole repair, health clinics, recreation centers, arts grants, the senior escort program, and services for homeless people. MUNI suffered cuts that would result in either the cutting of service or a rise in fares. 115 city employees also lost their jobs. The police department was one of the few to escape any cuts.

The Tom Waddell Health Clinic, the healthcare center used by most homeless people in the city, had also been proposed closed under the Mayor’s initial plan, but luckily, under public pressure and pressure from the Board of Supervisors, this program avoided the budget axe.

“The reality in San Francisco is we cannot spend money we do not have,” said Newsom, who backed Measures J and K, which would have raised the sales tax and imposed a .1% business tax that would have sunseted after 4 years. “The consequence of the decision that was made by the voters … requires me to make choices that will substantially affect the budget of the City and County of San Francisco, not just this year but for years to come.”

While critics had charged that Newsom’s support for the tax measures was weak and half-hearted, resulting in their loss at the polls, none could argue that city programs did not now need to be cut. What was up to debate was what programs would bear the brunt of the cuts. Despite calling for major cuts in the Opera and the Visitor and Convention Centers Bureau by community advocates who saw these as subsidies to the rich and wealthy, and as less important than healthcare, the budget saw only minor cuts for these programs.

But the real shocker came on the day the cuts were taking effect, January 15. At a packed community meeting in the Sunset, Newsom spoke to residents who showed up to urge the Mayor to reinstate a recreation director who had built attendance from 3 up to 300 youth. At the same time that Newsom agreed to reinstate the job of that one particular director, he announced that he hoped to add 150 new police officers in the next year’s fiscal budget. The city currently employs 1,791 officers. 150 new police officers would cost the city $9 million per year, money that will have to come from other programs.

A few days after Newsom made his announcement, the police department, at a meeting of the police commission, requested not just 150 new police officers next year, but every year for the next 3 years, which would result in a net increase of 450 police officers, a 25% increase in the size of the police force. They claimed a “crisis” that while including legitimate concerns such as slow response times to “minor assaults,” also included such frivolous items as “public intoxication.” This would cost the city an additional $27 million per year, almost half the entire budget shortfall of $64 million, that was balanced on the backs of the city’s other programs this year. It is also possible that since Newsom and the police department both cited the same figure of 150 officers, that they had been in coordination on the plan for providing not just 150 new police officers one year, but each year for 3 years. If there was no coordination, Newsom should state this publicly in order to clearly distance himself from the police department’s unreasonable request.

So, why does Newsom want to increase the size of the police force at the expense of other programs? Its possible he wants more police in order to step up street sweeps to push the homeless into less visible areas, so that he can claim success on the intractable issue of homelessness. Or perhaps Newsom, in keeping with right-wing ideology, seems to feel that its more effective to address security through increased force than through addressing its underlying causes.

Rob Arnow is a Green Party activist and freelance designer living in San Francisco.

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