San Francisco’s Growing Police Academy Classes: A Path to Addressing Staff Shortages

Image Commercially Licensed from: DepositPhotos
Image Commercially Licensed from: DepositPhotos

Mayor’s Initiative Aims to Boost the City’s Policing Strength

San Francisco is experiencing a surge in the size of its police academy classes, signifying a promising step toward resolving its ongoing staffing challenges. The most recent police academy class, with 32 recruits, marked the largest cohort since 2020, as officially reported by the department in June. This increase in interest from potential officers is warmly embraced by a city that, depending on the source, faces a deficit of approximately 500 officers.

Mayor London Breed has prioritized fortifying the police department’s ranks in her city budget proposal for the current year. She has set an ambitious goal of hiring 220 officers over the next two years. If achieved, this would restore the city’s sworn officer count to approximately 1,800, a level not seen since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, this endeavor comes with its challenges. Despite enhancements in recruiting efforts, the department is, in the words of Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, “treading water.” This is due to the continued retirement or departures of officers for positions in other jurisdictions.

San Francisco is not unique in facing recruitment and retention difficulties; cities across the United States, including Seattle, Portland, and other Northern California cities competing for talent, have offered substantial hiring incentives to attract officers from other departments.

Public Safety Concerns Amid Officer Shortage

The shortage of officers coincides with growing concerns about public safety in San Francisco, as indicated by numerous polls and recent elections, including the 2022 recall of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

The department attributes the renewed interest from applicants to a multifaceted approach, including strengthened recruiting efforts and increased outreach, particularly through social media.

In previous years, the city held as few as two police academies annually, but now, they are conducted quarterly. This translates to shorter wait times for prospective recruits, as Evan Sernoffsky, a department spokesperson, explains: “Since we have more academies, that means we can offer candidates who pass background checks a spot right away, rather than having them wait. In the past, those candidates may have taken a job at another police department.”

Improved Compensation and Benefits

The pay prospects for recruits upon full-time employment have received a boost following the recent approval of the contract between the Police Officers Association and the city. This agreement includes salary raises totaling 10.75% over three years.

Moreover, the new union contract has reduced the wait time for officers hired from outside departments to move up a salary step from two years to just one. This change has led to an increase in lateral transfers, with some officers returning to the SFPD after leaving for other opportunities.

Economic Uncertainty and Policing

Chris Catren, chief of the Redlands Police Department and president of the California Police Chiefs Association, suggested in a January interview that economic uncertainty might be a benefit to police departments. He noted that certain positives can come to light during times when the economy is not booming.

An analysis by Mission Local earlier this year found that arrest rates for property and violent crimes do not always directly correlate with the department’s headcount. While adding more officers may not completely eliminate crime, it could have other advantages, such as reducing the reliance on overtime.

Budgetary Implications

Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors had to approve a $25 million midyear budget allocation due to the department’s overtime pay exceeding the initial budget.

Mayor Breed is not the only city leader advocating for increased officer hiring. Supervisor Matt Dorsey has proposed and succeeded in adopting a resolution that calls on the city to match hiring bonuses offered to police officers by other Northern California cities. He is also pushing for a charter amendment that would require the city to meet its police staffing target within five years and allocate a specific portion of the budget to achieve this goal.

In summary, San Francisco’s efforts to bolster its police academy classes represent a significant step toward addressing staffing shortages. The mayor’s commitment to increasing the police force, combined with improved compensation and a proactive approach to recruitment, demonstrates a concerted effort to enhance public safety and restore the city’s law enforcement strength.