By Alex Emslie
In his proposed budget unveiled Monday that includes a $37 million increase for the city’s Police Department over the next two years, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has opted not to fund an ongoing probe into a string of law enforcement scandals.
The district attorney’s office requested funding for several efforts, including $383,315 to pay for a task force investigating misconduct in the San Francisco police and sheriff’s departments.
“We just didn’t get anywhere near the funding that we had hoped for,” DA spokesman Max Szabo said. “It’s really concerning that we’re not getting the adequate resources that we need to just function normally.”
The bulk of the task force’s work — still underway in the DA’s trial integrity unit — is reviewing some 3,000 potentially tainted cases involving SFPD officers implicated in a bigoted text messaging scandal that came to light in March, Szabo said. The task force is also probing work from the Police Department’s crime lab and investigating allegations that sheriff’s deputies forced city jail inmates to fight each other.
Lee touted multimillion-dollar allocations in other public safety departments in a speech before the Board of Supervisors Monday.
“My budget doubles down on our public safety investments to meet the needs of a growing city and the growing demands of our first responders,” he said. “We will through this budget hire 400 additional police officers, 198 firefighters, 55 paramedics, and 36 911 dispatchers.”
Asked why he didn’t budget any funds for the misconduct investigations, Lee said he didn’t want to encourage legal battles between city departments.
“What I don’t want to see is lawyering up on the public defender’s side and the district attorney’s side just to battle against each other,” Lee said, adding that he didn’t believe 3,000 cases need review.
“I think that the DA and the police chief and the Police Commission need to all work closely together,” he said. “I do believe there is a number they have to look at, and they can come to an agreement as to what that is.”
A spokeswoman with the public defender’s office said prosecutors and public defenders are collaborating to review the cases.
When he announced the probe, District Attorney George Gascón said his office flagged 10 years of arrests involving officers implicated in the texting scandal and turned up about 1,600 prosecutions. Prosecutors did not file charges in the remaining 1,400 cases. Gascón said it was possibly more important to look at arrests that weren’t prosecuted, indicating charges might not have held up in court.
“I am disappointed that this was not included in the mayor’s budget,” Supervisor David Campos said. “I think that members of the Police Department and members of the community deserve that the city allocate the resources needed to get to the bottom of what happened.”
The text messages were made public in a federal court filing on March 13. The city’s public defender revealed on March 26 the allegations of forced inmate fighting at a city jail, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported on March 28 on a breach of protocol at SFPD’s crime lab, potentially affecting hundreds more prosecutions.
“Our special prosecutions unit, which handles misconduct for the district attorney’s office, was underwater,” Szabo said, “and really needed additional resources to become adequately staffed and investigate these varying issues.”
Gascón said at the time that he would seek additional funding from the city, but what became of the request was unknown until now. The mayor’s budget would increase the DA’s overall funding by $3.7 million over two years, mostly allocated for mandatory salary and benefit increases. The budget also includes funding for an additional attorney to work on the city’s implementation of court-ordered, outpatient mental health treatment, or Laura’s Law, and a boost for IT staff.
Requests in other areas, like increased funding for processing untested rape kits and victim services, were denied.
“We requested four additional victims’ advocates to serve this growing population,” Szabo said, citing a 30 percent increase in victim services over the past four years. “We didn’t get one.”
Szabo said the task force’s work will continue. “Unfortunately, it may take a little longer than we’d hoped and anticipated,” he said.