Proposition R: Creating a ‘Neighborhood Crime Unit’ Within the Police Department

This ordinance would direct the Police Department to create a unit focused on making neighborhoods safer and improving quality of life.

Why is this on the ballot?

According to the authors of this measure, “The Safe Neighborhoods Ordinance,” violent crime is at a historic low in San Francisco but other crimes that make residents feel unsafe — home burglaries, car break-ins and theft, and vandalism — have recently increased. In 2015, car break-ins reached a five-year high of 24,800 reports. And bike theft has mounted steadily over the previous decade, reaching a 10-year high of 948 reports in 2015, based on data from the San Francisco Police Department.

The Police Department already investigates these crimes, but that work is split among several crime units, which are tasked with investigating other crimes as well. Proposition R seeks to consolidate this enforcement into a single command structure with mandatory minimum staffing levels.

The measure’s opponents argue that the new unit would divert officers from foot patrols, causing them to instead “spend hours in countless meetings.”

This initiative is also another response to the city’s handling of homelessness. The proposition’s chief author, Supervisor Scott Wiener, said he wrote it partially because city residents are “sick of seeing tent encampments where people have not been transitioned into shelters.”

Opponents fire back that policing homelessness only makes it harder to solve the problem. “Last year, SFPD gave out 14,000 citations simply for resting in public,” reads the official opponent argument. “Those citations saddle homeless people with debt and threaten their eligibility for housing.”

What would it do and at what cost?

This measure would create a Neighborhood Crime Unit tasked with policing and investigating neighborhood crimes, which would involve meeting and coordinating with community groups. Critics say the unit would unfairly target the homeless.

The unit’s officers would respond to phone calls to 911 and 311, the city’s customer service number, and work with other city departments to help homeless people get shelter, housing, mental health care or drug-addiction services.

The initiative does not create a detailed policing agenda for the unit; instead, it would be up to the Police Department to set that agenda after Proposition R’s passage.

Proposition R would also keep the unit from dropping below a specific staffing level, as long as the department as a whole was staffed adequately. If there were at least 1,971 officers citywide, the Neighborhood Crime Unit would need to contain at least 3 percent of all sworn personnel — at least 59 people.

The unit would have to compile “accountability data metrics” on neighborhood crime and efforts to fight it, and file annual reports to the Police Commission.

The San Francisco Controller has said this measure would put minimal financial burden on City Hall, since it would merely reassign officers rather than require new hires.

Is there a catch?

The Neighborhood Crime Unit might not immediately form, even if voters pass Proposition R. That is because as of the end of September, the SFPD has 1,737 full-sworn officers, according to Sgt. Michael Andraychak. That is 234 shy of the number that would kick in the requirement for the chief of police to create this unit.

But the city controller has stated that the department should surpass that limit within the next year, because of “new officers graduating from academy classes.” If, for any reason, the department could not hit this mark, the chief of police could still choose to form the Neighborhood Crime Unit.

If the number of sworn officers in San Francisco dropped below the 1,971 threshold, the chief could dissolve the unit.

Who officially proposed it?

Mayor Ed Lee, and supervisors Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, Katy Tang and Mark Farrell.

Wiener wrote the official proponent argument.

Who officially opposes it?

Supervisors John Avalos and Eric Mar; San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi; former Supervisor Bevan Dufty; Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus; and Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project.

Vote threshold to pass

Simple majority — 50 percent plus one

Effective date if passed

Whenever the SFPD meets minimum staffing levels outlined in the proposition.

Follow the money

One committee is spending money to support Proposition R: “Coalition for Safer Neighborhoods, Yes on Prop R.”

One committee is spending money to oppose the measure: “People for True Housing and Homeless Solutions, 2016; A Committee Opposed to Propositions Q and R.”

Follow the money at the San Francisco Ethics Commission: all Proposition R filings.

Endorsements: our methodology

The Public Press chose to count endorsements from organizations that backed multiple candidates or ballot measures, and that made those endorsements available online. We did not count endorsements from individuals.

If you think we missed an important organization, please tell us. We’d love to hear from you.

Tracked endorsements by organization

Written by: Noah Arroyo and Zachary Clark

Published: Sept. 30, 2016

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