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San Francisco cops leaving in record numbers, officials say

Officers cited various reasons for their departure including costs of living, policy and public sentiment


A San Francisco Police Department patch is shown on an officer’s uniform in San Francisco, Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

By Phil Matier
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO — As politicians debate the future of San Francisco policing, there is another discussion going in the station houses: the record number of officers resigning.

In the first six months of the year, 23 sworn officers resigned, Police Department records show. Of those, 19 took jobs at other law enforcement agencies, both in California and elsewhere.

By comparison, 26 officers resigned in all of 2019. And only 12 officers resigned in 2018.

If the police exits continue at the current pace, the SFPD is on track to lose nearly twice as many cops this year as it did last year and close to four times as many as in 2018.

“This is just the beginning. Dozens are actively in the hiring process with other agencies,” said Tony Montoya, president of the Police Officers Association.

“The members are upset that the social experiment being conducted in San Francisco is failing, and they would rather work someplace that values them,” said Montoya, a constant critic of City Hall’s calls for police reform, which after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis has taken the form of shifting money from the police budget to social causes.

“Members have gone to places like the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, Pleasant Hill, Beverly Hills, Petaluma, Palm Springs, Placerville, Long Beach, Idaho, Texas, Arizona,” Montoya said.

Police Chief Bill Scott said there has been an “uptick” in officers leaving this year but that many of the applications to leave predated the national unrest after Floyd’s death.

“It’s a tough job, and for many officers it’s also long commute to and from work,” Scott said in a recent interview. “If there are opportunities closer to home, people are going to take them.”

Interviews with officers who have left, or are planning to leave, suggest a combination of reasons are at play. But many cited the frustration of working under Proposition 47, a statewide criminal justice reform measure approved by voters in 2014 that reduced many nonviolent felonies, such as hard drug possession and theft of less than $950, to misdemeanors that can be cited with little or no jail time.

The high costs of housing, raising a family and taxes in the Bay Area are also big reasons for the exits.

“I was getting a great paycheck, but 20% went to taxes,” said one former San Francisco officer now working at a police department in Texas who asked not to be named for privacy concerns. “Here I got a bigger house, a more affordable lifestyle and a commute that went from two hours each way to 15 minutes.”

“It’s also nice working at a place where everyone isn’t mad at you,” the officer said. “In San Francisco, everyone was mad. The homeowners would get mad because you didn’t move the homeless who were sleeping in front of their house. Then, when you tried to help the homeless, someone would start yelling about police brutality.

“And everyone had a cell phone camera on you,” he said.

Another officer, who also asked not to be named because he is planning to leave the SFPD, said that given the expected budget cuts, calls for pay freezes and more defunding, San Francisco “just doesn’t feel like a place to be for the long haul.”

Officers applying at other law enforcement agencies need to give the SFPD permission to share their personnel files with those agencies. The SFPD, however, doesn’t track personnel file-viewing inquiries, so it is impossible to get an accurate count of how many officers are looking elsewhere.

Meanwhile, an additional 31 officers have either retired this year or told the department they will retire by year’s end. Add in the 23 officers who have left already, and the SFPD will be down at least 54 people. That might be hard to make up, as the last police academy had only 19 cadets. Most classes are budgeted for 55 people.

Upshot: The city is 159 full-duty officers short of the City Charter mandate of 1,971.

Chief Scott declined to comment on how he plans to handle the exits and academy shortages, but it may not be much of an issue at City Hall these days.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has proposed pulling $120 million from the police and sheriff’s departments and putting the money into programs that support the city’s underserved black community, a move the chief supports.

Longtime Police Commission member Petra DeJesus said she is confident the department will adjust — even benefit — from the changes.

“Change is a difficult and sometimes heightens people’s fears on how it will affect them personally,” DeJesus said. “I hope that the changes may help the department recruit applicants that want to be a part of the new direction and change.”

Or they can go someplace else — it’s all about choices.

NEXT: Setting the record straight on law enforcement retention

©2020 the San Francisco Chronicle