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Tackling Staffing and Overtime Problems in the SFPD
By Nicolas Menard


Although San Francisco has been experiencing an economic boom since the Great Recession, the City still faces a number of social challenges that are highly demanding of government services, including housing affordability, homelessness, and a recent uptick in property crimes. The debate about how to allocate fiscal resources to address these long-standing issues has been an ongoing discussion among the City’s legislative body, the Board Supervisors, as well as the Mayor’s Office, service organizations, businesses, and residents.

San Francisco’s City Charter has a provision that requires 1,971 full-time police officers. The Charter also requires regular civilianization reviews; that is, reviewing assignments of sworn staff (police officers) to administrative functions, such as information technology and fleet management, and whether there are opportunities to fill such positions with non-sworn staff so that they may be redeployed to patrol and investigation assignments. Although the City has rarely met its Charter-mandated Police staffing of 1,971 officers due to competing policy priorities, the recent economic boom allowed the City to initiate a Police hiring plan and the City expects to meet the Charter staffing mandate by the end of 2018.

At the same time that it was increasing its staffing, the Police Department had been consistently exceeding its budget for overtime. Because the last comprehensive evaluation of Police staffing levels took place in 2008 and the most recent analysis of civilianization was in 2012, some policy makers felt that a review of Police staffing levels and overtime use was necessary to better understand the Department’s current needs. To inform its budget deliberations regarding Police staffing levels and overtime, the Board of Supervisors requested that our firm (as contract Budget and Legislative Analyst to the Board of Supervisors) conduct a review of the Police Department’s staffing and overtime.


Our review of the Police Department’s sworn staffing focused on patrol deployments to the City’s ten Police districts. We analyzed dispatch data and patrol assignments to see how much time officers were responding to calls for service. Our analysis found a wide variety in the amount of time consumed by calls for service. Some districts spent less than 25 percent of patrol time responding to 911 calls while others were closer to 45 percent. The remainder of their time was spent on report writing and general patrol. We also found that the percent of total sworn staff time spent responding to calls for service had been decreasing over the past three years. This made sense; as the Department increased its overall staffing, the number of calls for service did not increase proportionally, resulting in responding to calls for service making up less of sworn staff’s total time. We concluded that although the amount of calls for service had been increasing, the pace of the staffing increases meant that it had sufficient resources to meet the increased demands for service on its patrol operation. We recommended that the Police Department establish a target for the amount of time its patrol operation spends responding to calls for service and adjust staffing in the Police districts to meet that target. This would allow for Police officer assignments to better match district needs and provide clear expectations for the amount of staffing resources needed to meet the target. We concluded that, depending on the target for time spent responding to calls for service, the department could reassign up to 200 officers from patrol to investigation assignments.

We also reviewed the Police Department’s patrol scheduling procedures, which are governed by the City’s labor agreements, as well as supervisorial spans of control. We found that adjustments to patrol scheduling could allow for most predictable and consistent officer staffing during shifts, which varied by as much as 129 percent within the same shift. In addition, similar to the variance in time spent responding to calls for service, we found wide disparities in spans of control across the Police districts and recommended changes to assignment procedures to more efficiently assign supervisors across the City.


Our team also reviewed the Department’s administrative functions to identify positions filled by sworn staff that could instead be filled by civilians. We also reviewed staffing data from peer jurisdictions to bench mark the San Francisco Police Department’s ratio of sworn staff to civilian staff and found that it had a lower proportion of civilian staff than its peers and the national average. We then reviewed the department’s program mandates and job functions to understand to the extent to which they required sworn staff and law enforcement experience. We were able to identify up to 202 positions filled by sworn staff that could potentially be civilianized. Because the City makes a significant investment in training Police officers with skills to keep the public safe, assigning those highly trained (and highly compensated) officers to administrative functions is an inefficient use of resources. We recommended that the City begin filling these positions with non-sworn hires and so that the sworn staff currently in these roles could be deployed to patrol and investigation operations.


Our audit also assessed the Police department’s use of overtime. In particular, we focused on overtime related to arrests and investigations. We did so because other types of overtime, such as for civic events, were less subject to the department’s control and oftentimes were funded by non-City money. We began by reviewing historical trends in arrest and investigation overtime and compared the total amount of hours each year to the number of arrests. We found that the increase in overtime hours for arrests and investigations had not coincided with an increase in the number of arrests. Instead, overtime hours for arrest and investigation nearly tripled between 2010 and 2016 even though the arrests for violence offenses decreased by 14 percent and arrests for property crimes decreased by 31 percent over the same period. These observations raised questions about whether the Department was doing all it could to control its arrest and investigation overtime.


We then reviewed the Police Department’s internal control related to overtime. Both the Department and the City have policies to limit individual overtime use. In addition, we referred to best practices for overtime controls compiled by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Institute of Justice. We found that the Department did not consistently enforce its own policies related to pre-approval for overtime and caps on individual overtime. In addition, we found that the department did not have all the overtime policies that were recommended by best practices. For example, the department did not provide training to supervisors who approve overtime on the department’s policies for doing so. Similarly, the department did not conduct any cost-benefit analysis of overtime or analysis of high users of overtime or unusual trends in overtime use. We recommended enhancements to the Police Department’s overtime policies and procedures to better align them with best practices. We concluded that if the recommendations were fully implemented, the Department would spend less on overtime for arrests and investigations.


As a result of audit, the Department and the Mayor’s Office initiated a civilianization plan to hire civilian staff to fill positions that were currently occupied by sworn staff identified in our audit. In addition, the Department agreed to implement better overtime controls and to establish a target for time spent responding to calls for service for its patrol operation. Although these changes will take time to fully implement, over time they will generate significant savings for the City of San Francisco. These savings could be redirected to other policy needs while ensuring the Police Department’s various programs are appropriately staffed.


Nicolas Menard is a Principal Analyst at Harvey M. Rose Associates, LLC, a California-based performance auditing and management consulting firm. In business since 1978, Harvey M. Rose Associates specializes in advisory services to local government agencies, cities and counties, labor organizations, school districts, special districts and civil grand juries.