Who’s the boss of the police department? Is it those duly sworn in as either Mayor of the C&C of SF or Chief of the force, or is it We the People (or the Supervisor we the people elected)?
Judging by events Thursday, it’s a mixture of both: bowing to pressure from Mayor Gavin Newsom and Chief George Gascn, progressive supervisors agreed to back off from a voter initiative mandating more police foot patrols. But another voter initiative that would force the police department to reveal how much it spends on dignitary security — also universally loathed by Newsom and Chief — was moved forward, further blurring the line between protectors and protected (or something).
SFPD district stations are already supposed to put cops out walking beats by practice but also by a 2006 law that only vaguely instructed cops what to do. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s proposal tells cops exactly what do to — including to ride Muni as well as walk a beat each and every single day — and that violates the city charter, and moreover, upsets the balance of power between the Mayor and the Board.
Foot beats don’t necessarily reduce crime, Gascn told a Board committee, but they do “improve communication between people and the police. And for that reason I am a supporter” of foot beats, he said.
Just not foot beats mandated by a board of elected reps, apparently.
Supervisors chose to set the foot beat question aside for now, but it may yet end up on the November ballot.
Newsom and Gascon won that power struggle, but voters may yet see on their June ballot another politician-vs-police smackdown: whether or not police should include on their public budget a line item specifying how much SFPD spends on providing bodyguard services for elected officials.
Recall this is not a new spat between Mayor and Board, and specifically legislation sponsor Mirkarimi. Legislation instructing the SFPD to do this passed the Board already but was vetoed by the Mayor.
All the old arguments remain: Gascn says it’s dangerous and unnecessary (after all, he told media last year how much the SFPD spent on protection); Mirkarimi wants transparency and openness, without which the SFPD has a “phantom budget.”
The Secret Service discloses how much it spends on protecting the president, so too does the California Highway Patrol ‘fess up to the cost of protecting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why then, posited Mirkarimi, should SFPD be any different?
Voters will have their say in June if Mirkarimi’s proposal can get six votes full Board of Supervisors. We are fairly certain a simple majority is enough for a ballot measure, and we’ll update when we hear back from Mirkarimi’s office.