Neighbor disputes, mental health crises, and complaints about the homeless will no longer be part of the purview of the San Francisco Police Department under a new four-point plan unveiled by the mayor on Thursday.
While police officers in San Francisco have for many years spent a good part of their day responding to calls about the homeless, and to calls about a variety of non-criminal activity including behavioral health issues and school discipline interventions, those types of incidents will soon be undertaken by other kinds of trained professionals and teams. As the Chronicle reports, Mayor London Breed is responding quickly to nationwide calls to "defund the police" by saying that San Francisco will enact reforms that divert funds to communities of color, and replace police presence in non-violent, non-criminal situations with social workers, homeless outreach workers, and other unarmed professionals with specialized training.
"San Francisco has made progress reforming our police department, but we know that we still have significant work to do," Breed said in a statement. "We know that a lack of equity in our society overall leads to a lot of the problems that police are being asked to solve. We are going to keep going with these additional reforms and continuing to find ways to reinvest in communities that have historically been underserved and harmed by systemic racism."
The announcement comes just ahead of an 11:30 a.m. forum on police reform that Breed is hosting along with commentator Van Jones, former Supervisor Malia Cohen, and SFPD Chief William Scott. That's viewable live on YouTube below.
As the Chronicle notes, Breed isn't giving any details about budgets or how the city will redistribute or reassign employees or contractors to do the work she describes. It's being billed as more of an action plan or roadmap, which city departments will ultimately have to implement as they see fit.
Chief Scott issued his own statement about the proposed action plan, saying, "The initiatives Mayor Breed is announcing today are consistent with our department’s commitment to the Collaborative Reform Initiative and our aspiration to make the San Francisco Police Department a national model in 21st Century policing. We understand that it’s necessary for law enforcement to listen to African American communities and embrace courageous changes to address disparate policing practices, and we recognize it will take sacrifice on our part to fulfill the promise of reform."
As police departments around the nation grapple with the latest public outcry to divert resources away from them or dismantle themselves completely, we can expect to hear many more roadmaps like these coming from mayors' offices. And it's both true that the country is likely over-policed more than it is under-policed, and that police officers are asked to respond to many calls that they have zero qualifications to handle properly.
John Oliver, on his HBO program Last Week Tonight, discussed the concept of defunding the police on Sunday's episode, and explained it by pointing back to a quote about the Jim Crow laws that were enacted after the abolition of slavery. At the time, by way of explaining how modern police forces took shape around the country, an Alabama planter wrote, "We have the power to pass stringent police laws to govern the Negroes — this is a blessing — for they must be controlled in some way or white people cannot live among them."
Oliver quickly links that nineteenth century quote to the enactment of stop-and-frisk laws over a century later, noting that the effect was to detain a disproportionately high number of black and brown people as a form of social control. "If we want to talk about how we got here, it's important to remember that we got here on purpose," Oliver says.
Oliver also features a quote from the chief of police in Dallas who describes the litany of things that cops in that city are asked to do, from chasing loose dogs to helping the DA's office find more drug convictions.
"We are asking police to do far too much," Oliver says. "They have a massive array of complicated duties that in many cases they simply aren't equipped to handle, making them very much the Jared Kushners of local officials."
And as Van Jones said in today's virtual forum with the mayor, "We need laws, we need law enforcement. But we need lawful law enforcement. And let the police officers play in their lane."