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San Francisco Turning 17 Types Of Police Calls Over To Unarmed Civilian Response Teams

San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) has signed off on a plan to delay pay raises and to turn over 17 types of calls to be handled by unarmed civilian service providers.

The POA’s endorsement came just weeks after San Francisco voters passed legislation eliminating minimum staffing requirements for the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The union argued ahead of the vote that the department has been chronically understaffed as of late and was already struggling to cover calls.

“Our response times to 911 calls are lagging because we don’t have enough people on patrol,” POA Vice President Sergeant Tracy McCray told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time.

Veteran officers have also been leaving the department in record numbers, with many opting to take jobs in other areas.

“The reality is, our staffing is not getting any better,” POA President Tony Montoya told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month.

Montoya subsequently signed a letter of intent with city officials, clearing the way for calls involving mental health, non-violent crimes, and homelessness to be handled by civilian service providers.

“Currently, police officers are the initial responders and primary resource on certain calls for service that may be better suited to mental health or non-law enforcement professionals,” the union president said in the letter.

Juvenile disturbances, quality-of-life calls, traffic congestion, public health violations, dog complaints, and parking violations will also be addressed by the unarmed citizen responders, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Montoya said officers have been spending a “significant” amount of time dealing with these types of calls.

“This will be a better use of the limited resources we have,” Montoya conceded. “It’s going to free up more officers to do what traditionally police officers should be doing.”

Just days after Montoya issued the “collaboration agreement letter,” the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 in favor of delaying the SFPD’s upcoming pay increases, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Officers are slated to receive steeper raises in the future as a result of the two-year labor contract, according to the paper.

Critics were outraged that the city approved the contract without forcing the SFPD to make reform concessions, the San Francisco Examiner reported.

“[It] does nothing to address the POA’s unrelenting history of delaying much needed reforms,” ranted Supervisor Dean Preston, who voted against the updated contract. “The SFPD will not be meaningfully reformed if [the city’s human resources department] and the mayor continue to offer more pay raises to the SFPOA and ask for nothing in return.”

San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) Captain Simon Pang told NPR in October that the unarmed civilian response is long overdue.

Pang is leading the SFFD’s effort to establish the new “response teams,” which will be comprised of mental health professionals, paramedics, and peer support counselors, NPR reported.

Ideally, the peer support counselors will be people who have experienced drug or alcohol abuse, and who have been homeless at some point.

“It’s glaringly obvious we need to change the model,” Pang declared. “[Police are] handling these calls the best they can, but the fact remains that because of the traditional system, which is in place out of inertia, you have law enforcement officers responding to nonviolent, noncriminal calls for service for people whose needs are largely social, behavioral or mental.”

“That’s just not right,” he continued. “The time is now to rethink the entire process so that we can get personnel who are better suited to help people.”

In July, San Francisco Mayor London Breed unveiled her plan to defund SFPD and the sheriff’s department by $120 million in order to divert funding to the “black community,” KGO reported.

“With this budget, we are listening to the community and prioritizing investments in the African American community around housing, mental health and wellness, workforce development, economic justice, education, advocacy and accountability,” Breed said at the time.

The city said it also wants to focus on stripping police of so-called military-grade equipment, increasing police accountability, and bringing in mental health providers to work with citizens in crisis instead of police, according to KGO.

“I want black boys growing up today to thrive because we chose to change how this city and how this country treats our young, black men – not as a statistic or an inevitable tragedy – but as an important part of our city’s future,” Breed declared.

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Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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