SF Mayor Breed's Proposed Budget Redirects $120 Million From Police to City's Black Community

San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks during a press conference on March 16, 2020 at City Hall as San Francisco Police Chief William Scott looks on. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco Mayor London Breed unveiled a proposed budget Friday that includes pulling $120 million from law enforcement agencies and putting it into programs that support the city’s largely underserved Black community.

Although the specific spending details are still unclear, Breed’s proposal would direct 60% of the funds to mental health, wellness and homelessness initiatives in the Black community, while 35% would support education, youth development and economic opportunities. The remaining 5% would go toward developing a plan to replace police officers with social workers as the main responders to noncriminal calls involving the homeless and mentally ill.

Those allocations reflect spending priorities conveyed by Black residents during a series of recent community meetings and public surveys led by the city’s Human Rights Commission, Breed said.

“It’s important that we listen to Black voices. It's important that we allow Black people to lead this movement,” Breed said at a press conference Friday. “We have to listen to the people in the community. We have to listen to the people who have seen and lived the devastation resulting from decades of disinvestment.”

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Breed’s defunding plan was devised in collaboration with Supervisor Shamann Walton as a reparation for city policies that led to “decades of disinvestment” in the Black community.

Black people make up only about 5% of San Francisco’s population — a proportion that has consistently decreased in the last 50 years — but comprise nearly 40% of its homeless residents. African Americans have among the city’s highest mortality rates and lowest median household incomes, and are involved in a disproportionately high percentage of police use-of-force incidents.

The plan would cut $40 million annually over the next two years from the San Francisco Police Department, reducing its nearly $700 million annual budget by almost 6%. The Sheriff’s Department, meanwhile, would see a total of $20 million in cuts.

The heads of both of those departments expressed initial, if measured, support for the proposed cuts, most of which would come from not filling vacant positions and reducing overtime expenditures.

“We knew there would be pain and sacrifice associated with these budget cuts, but we also know they're necessary to fulfill the promise of Mayor Breed's and Sup. Walton's reinvestment initiative to support racial equality,” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said in the statement. “While the cuts are significant, they are cuts we can absorb and that will not diminish our ability to provide essential services.”

The mayor's defunding plan comes largely in response to huge, prolonged demonstrations — in San Francisco and around the world — following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and amid growing calls to shift resources away from law enforcement. In June, Breed also directed the Police Department to no longer respond to noncriminal complaints, revise its accountability and anti-bias practices and stop using military-grade equipment.

“As a Black woman who grew up in poverty in this city, police brutality was all too common. It was something we expected and our complaints were usually ignored. Two months ago, the murder of George Floyd shook this country to its core, in a way that I have never seen before,” she said.

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

The plan is part of Breed’s proposed budget of $13.7 billion for the fiscal year 2020-2021 and $12.6 billion for 2021-2022, which she introduced to the Board of Supervisors on Friday.

The proposal aims to close a $1.5 billion deficit with the use of reserves, while preserving jobs and making minimal cuts to city services.

The Board of Supervisors has until Oct. 1 to send back their revised version of the budget for Breed to sign.

San Francisco has avoided layoffs of city staff since the pandemic began, and Breed said jobs would continue to be protected under her budget, but only if the unions representing those workers agreed to the delay of any planned wage increases over the next two years.

”I don't think this is too much to ask," she said. "Our entire city is suffering now and we all need to do our part to share in that sacrifice.”

But several unions representing city workers were quick to criticize Breed’s proposal to delay wage increases, noting the sacrifices workers have already made during the pandemic.

“Our members have been in the field, uninterrupted by the crisis, maintaining key infrastructure to support our city. We keep the power, water and others systems online and need city leaders to value this important work, especially during a crisis,” said Larry Mazzola Jr., president of the San Francisc Building and Construction Trades Council.

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Breed's budget also proposes allocating $446 million to the city's COVID-19 response efforts, with a focus on health services, housing and shelter and emergency communications.

Of that amount, the budget proposal assumes the city can cover $93 million, while the remaining amount can be covered by U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements and funding from the federal coronavirus relief bill.

The budget also addresses mental health and homelessness. However, several of the investments rely on the passage of a city business tax reform measure on the ballot in November, which would provide $66.5 million over the two years.

Earlier this week, Breed also announced that the proposed budget includes $15 million to support San Francisco Unified School District, students and families as the fall semester is set to begin with distance learning.

This report contains additional reporting from KQED's Marco Siler-Gonzales and Bay City News.