It ain’t easy being SFPD these days. It seems like there are a litany of pressures pulling the department in every which direction while simultaneously stretching its resources ever thinner. Take, for example, the hearing at City Hall this Wednesday before the Board of Supervisors that turned contentious over the issue of community policing. While interim Police Chief Jeff Godown agreed with Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and David Campos, at least in theory, that the department should be committed to community policing as the department’s over-arching crime reduction strategy, he balked when the Supes suggested that the practice should be mandated.
Community policing came into vogue in law enforcement circles in the 1980s to describe a novel approach to police work that, paradoxically, has been what many good cops have been doing since time immemorial. The theory is that the best way for officers to police a community is to immerse themselves in said community. Make friends with the locals, pound the pavement every day and all that good stuff. It’s about changing the way that the police department views itself–from primarily a law enforcement agency to one focused on public safety. Yeah, it’s all warm and fuzzy but, when implemented correctly, its been proven highly effective.
It’s easy to see why community policing is the type of thing that law-and-order minded San Francisco progressives can’t get enough of. So it makes sense that Campos, a former police commissioner, and Mirkarimi, who went though the police academy and is currently on the ballot to replace beloved, long-time San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey, would want to forever inscribe community policing into the books.
Godown’s problem is that what Campos and Mirkarimi are proposing would dictate specific officer deployment decisions–the type of thing that’s anathema to independent-minded police chiefs who don’t like politicians telling them how to run their department. Conversely, the people who want to make community policing the law of the land are doing so in the light of former top cop, and current DA, George Gascon’s preference for the more statistically-based CompStat method of policing.
Instead of directly engaging with the community, CompStat uses rigorous statistical analysis to determine crime hot-spots and then determining the best methods to counteract it. Think Sabremetics except concerned with solving murders instead of helping the Oakland A’s reach the playoffs.
Last year San Francisco voters struck down a ballot measure requiring community policing and local law enforcement has long opposed the increased foot patrols that intensive community policing requires.
This opposition to community policing is largely based on its intensive use of resources at a time when both budgets and rosters are stretched thin. Budget considerations could lead to as many as 500 officers retiring from the force in the coming years. Cuts have similarly decimated the unfortunately Guttenberg-free incoming police academy class, meaning that replacing the retiring officers is unlikely.