San Francisco — Despite pledges last year to redirect funds from the police and sheriff to San Francisco’s Black community in the form of the Dream Keeper Initiative, Mayor London Breed’s office has confirmed to SF Weekly that the city will instead increase funding to the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and will not specify how the Dream Keeper Initiative will be funded in the midst of a historic budget shortfall.
Last summer, during the historic mobilization of millions of people against the escalating police violence across America, Mayor Breed said in a statement to the Examiner, “Reforming our criminal justice system must go hand-in-hand with policy changes and budget investments to make our city more equitable…This work is ongoing and it will take time, but it won’t be done until we have fully remedied past wrongs and ended the disparities that continue to harm African Americans in our city to this day.”
At the time, the Mayor’s proposal included cutting about $40 million a year from the SFPD budget and about $20 million a year from the sheriff budget, as well as smaller cuts from other carceral institutions like the District Attorney’s office.
The plan was that this money would go towards funding a comprehensive initiative to give long-denied opportunities to San Francisco’s Black population, rather than escalating police violence against those same communities. This initiative included funding youth development and education, city employment pipelines, business and entrepreneur support, and health and well-being.
Jamie Chen, an organizer with the group Defund SFPD, told SFIJ, “It makes no sense to continue pouring millions of dollars into dozens of officers specifically assigned to criminalize unhoused people — or millions of plainclothes officers, one of whom ‘accidentally’ shot someone last month. When we have models of community care like the Compassionate Alternative Response Team or CART, which the Board of Supervisors just unanimously passed a resolution to support, that would actually provide immediate service and long-term solutions, we have a moral responsibility to shift that funding over if we’re going to call ourselves a progressive city.”
When paired with a decrease in the money spent on incarcerating and policing Black San Franciscans, Mayor Breed seemed poised to take advantage of a rare moment in local politics to materially shift power away from a police department with a yearly budget of two-thirds of a billion dollars.
However, the proposed budget will give SFPD an additional $45.9 million from the general fund — money that could otherwise be used for education, healthcare and housing — putting the total general fund contribution to SFPD at more than $554 million per year. This would represent the most money ever given to SFPD from the general fund.
So despite a brief decrease of funding during the 2020 fiscal year — though still less than the decrease of funding suffered by the San Francisco Public Library,Mayor Breed has fully refunded the police and proposed a record-high contribution to the same institutions she pledged to defund last year.
This record-high funding includes $35.7 million to fund Juvenile Hall, a prison for children — 87% of whom are Black — even though the Board of Supervisors voted to close the facility by the end of 2021. With the current budget proposal, Juvenile Hall will continue caging children until mid-2023.
“The only way to reduce police violence is to reduce the number of interactions between police and our communities,” said Chen.
“Long term improvements to our communities will take investments into life-saving community resources, not more cops. They have not solved our problems in the past, so why are we trusting that throwing even more money at an already-bloated budget will make any meaningful difference?”
Photo Credit: “San Francisco Police motorcycles and helmets” by janetbland is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0