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How to Conceal and Downplay a Police Staffing Crisis
The San Francisco Police Department staffing crisis is something I’ve been writing for almost three years now. In that time, I would argue the department has done nothing to try and change or fix it. In fact based on recent charts produced by the department itself, it appears concealment of the issue, is more of the plan than taking the reins and trying something new.
In the private sector if a 20% drop in profit were to occur, heads would roll. The CEO would be replaced or the corporate board would be shaken up. In the public sector we don’t run on profit. However, the health of the department could be measured by its stability and growth.
The past 5 years has seen vast change in the department. Staffing was on a sharp rise and headed toward full staffing not seen in about a decade. Then the fall began around mid 2019. The precipitous fall has continued unabated through the present, with no signs of slowing or stopping.
The chart below is a department created visual:
If you looked at the above chart you would say there’s a couple small peaks and valleys but staffing appears stable. This chart was in a letter the SFPD sent to Supervisor Hillary Ronen discussing staffing woes.
But the chart lacks a few key points of context. First staffing has never hit 2300 or even 2100 so why are they the top numbers? Using those points minimizes the massive drop occurring right now.
Second, the Y-axis is in intervals of 200. To put that in perspective, small SFPD stations have about 65-75 members, medium sized are 85-100, and the largest stations have 120-140 members. So by using 200 members as the intervals, the drops appear smaller, but the impact would be losing the staffing equivalent to 1.5-2 whole stations. A very detrimental loss that gets minimized by the department created charts.
So instead I took the above numbers and decided to fix the chart. Here are the same numbers but with a smaller overall range 1500-2000 members. I also changed the Y-axis intervals to 50 members because losing 50 is similar to losing the staffing for a whole smaller station.
I think my chart tells a much different story:
The chart also shows that at the periods of low SFPD staffing in the past, massive hiring occurred, which could immediately begin to refill the ranks.
Now with our current recruit classes unable to get 25 members, and the recent physical agility test only attracting 8 applicants, yes 8! What’s the plan? We can not hire our way out of this one. So what is there to do?
Most reasonable leaders would then pivot to doing whatever is necessary to retain every single cop they currently have. Yet after months of talk, no new initiatives have come to fruition. No new money, no new benefits, and no new positive work rules. So while no one is coming in, many are walking out.
Last personnel order had 7 more people leave the department, a decline from the 16 of the previous order. While this temporary reprieve is nice, it’s not a solution. By June 30, when the next base wage increase comes, I predict we will be below 1500 on the charts above.
While these numbers greatly concern me as a department member, they concern me more as a city resident who expects police services for my enormous property tax payments.
DOES THE ABOVE CONCERN THE CITY OR DEPARTMENT LEADERSHIP?
If these charts are not bad enough, I was sent a chart from a department presentation last week. This trend line chart shows the downward fall of staffing, but makes it appear more like staffing is very full glass that sometimes bubbles over. With this chart right now it looks like we’re just in another little lull.
This chart seems to try and show the opposite. So apparently the department is still unwilling to call the staffing crisis what it is, an exodus.
For addicts, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. The SFPD still has not gotten to that step yet.
In my experience with recovered addicts, change and recovery will not happen until they hit rock bottom. I guess the department hasn’t hit rock bottom yet.