Did Newsom forget to mention COPS cash during budget talks?


By Rebecca Bowe

The San Francisco Police Department received $16.5 million in federal funding through the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring grant program, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced July 28.

That’s a lot compared with the sums allocated to other cities throughout the country, but it’s just a fraction of the $89 million that Mayor Newsom and then-Police Chief Heather Fong requested for the SFPD in mid-April. So did the mayor mention that the city had applied to receive millions for the police from the federal government when the budget talks were going on?

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told the Guardian that he was never informed that the city had applied for the COPS grant. “If in fact an application was submitted, then in my opinion it’s incumbent upon the mayor’s budget office and the police department to inform us of this,” Mirkarimi told us, adding that in his opinion, it should have come up during the budget talks.

Sup. John Avalos, chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, declined to comment on whether or not Mayor Newsom mentioned it during budget negotiations. Board President David Chiu, who was also involved in budget talks with the mayor, did not respond to requests for comment. The Mayor’s Office of Communications didn’t return our calls either -- but then again, I would probably fall out of my chair in shock if they did.

So, we can’t tell you for sure whether Newsom omitted the part where he asked the federal government for millions of dollars for the SFPD. We can only speculate. But if it did slip his mind, isn’t that kind of a crucial detail to leave out? Especially when you’re talking about an extraordinarily lean fiscal year? And when all the outrage over the budget stemmed from the mayor’s allocation to public safety departments at the expense of critical services?

The mayor’s press release announcing the $16.5 million grant, which went out one hour before the Board of Supervisors met on July 28 and approved the final 2009-2010 budget, noted that the funding would be used to “hire or rehire 50 officers, which will strengthen our crime prevention efforts, put people to work, and help us to continue reducing crime.”

The money will be used for a Police Academy training program and for the salaries and benefits of 50 new police officers, according to SFPD spokesman Sgt. Wilfred Williams. “We didn’t have any officers laid off” as part of the city budget cuts, Williams responded when asked what percentage of the money would be used to rehire police officers who’d been laid off.

“The Police Department loses officers every year through retirement and other attrition,” noted Leo Levenson, budget and analysis director in the city’s Controller's Office. “In addition, the department indefinitely postponed three planned academy classes prior to any recruits beginning training.” Levenson added the total Police Department budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year increased from $442 million to $459 million with the funding boost. The SFPD receives more in General Fund support than any other city department. However, the total SFPD budget represents 29 percent of the total Department of Public Health budget, which is $1,576 million when you count San Francisco General and Laguna Honda hospitals, according to Levenson.

In an application submitted April 14, Newsom and Fong requested $89 million, enough to bankroll 268 new police officer positions for 3 years. “The positions requested in the proposal include 95 officer positions that would have been part of May and June 2009 Academy classes, but have been eliminated from the department’s budget as a result of mid-year budget reductions,” according to the proposal. “The additional 173 requested positions are needed in order to offset officer attrition and support the department’s community policing strategies.”