sfpd_cityhall.jpgThe San Francisco Police Department is understaffed. No doubt about it: it’s the law — and the envy of Oakland and San Jose.

A 2004 voter-approved amendment to the City Charter requires that SFPD have 1,971 sworn officers in patrol or other crime-fighting, non-administrative duties. Thanks to retirements and canceled police academy classes, SFPD only 1,771 sworn personnel available, prompting San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr to warn of a possible uptick in crime if more officers aren’t hired, a situation duly labeled a “cop shortage” by the San Francisco Examiner.

But in commanding a legally-understaffed department, Suhr is nonetheless the envy of his counterparts in San Jose and Oakland: the Bay Area’s largest police force by far, San Francisco also has more officers per resident, per area, and per most types of crime.

The San Francisco police department currently has “just over” 2,100 men and women in uniform, according to police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza. Those not in the field occupy administrative and desk jobs, like the Media Relations role Esparza fulfills and brass like Suhr’s job as Chief.

Even with a couple hundred officers in desk jobs, with its 1,771 officers in the field, SFPD is by far the Bay Area’s largest police department. San Jose has 1,100 officers, and Oakland has 661, according to available estimates.

At 47 square miles, San Francisco is also the region’s smallest major city. Oakland cops patrol 55 square miles, and San Jose police have 179.965 square miles to safeguard, according to Census figures.

Population-wise, San Franciscans enjoy almost double the police protection seen in the South Bay. With an official population of 805,235, there’s one cop for every 454 people in San Francisco. In San Jose (population 958,000) there’s one cop for every 870 residents, and in Oakland, there’s one cop for every 590 people.

Of course, police don’t serve and protect land area or statistics: they’re around to fight crime. When that’s taken into account, San Francisco is also well-off.

Using crime data from 2010 — 2011 estimates are preliminary — there were 6,267 part I violent crimes (murder, assault, rape) in Oakland, according to data provided by Prof. Jeffrey Snipes, who chairs the Department of Criminal Justice at San Francisco State University. Compare that to 2,629 in San Francisco, and 1,624 in the safest of all, San Jose.

This means that with about one-third of the officers, the Oakland Police Department must deal with twice the violent crime handled by SFPD. Oakland also has 9.3 violent crimes per officer compared to 2.55 in San Jose and San Francisco, according to Snipes.

“Oakland is phenomenally understaffed compared to SF and SJ,” he said.

When and if Suhr gets his 200 extra men and women, it’s not guaranteed that they’ll all be fighting crime and subsequently keeping San Francisco crime totals down.
Raw numbers of police don’t necessarily equal a drop in crime, though “the general consensus is that it does make a difference,” Snipes said. “However, it is *what* police do that outweighs considerably the *number* of police.”

One thing officers at SFPD do, and continues to do despite efforts to the contrary, is staff desk positions. Only 14 percent of San Francisco’s police staff are civilian, compared to 28 percent in Oakland and 22 percent in San Jose. This means sworn staff fulfill roles like secretary of the Police Commission.

The area’s richest city by repute, San Francisco also has the best-funded police force. Last year’s SFPD budget was $470 million, an increase of nearly $100 million since 2006, according to a report produced by the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. That’s almost double the $226 million Oakland spends on its police and fire departments combined. San Jose spent $450 million on “public safety” — which also includes fire services — in the current fiscal year, according to a Bay Citizen report, and still had to axe over 100 officers.

So crooks beware: SFPD has twice the cash and twice the cops of Oakland, and if Suhr gets his way, will be even more heavily policed.

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