Proposal: San Francisco's Fire, Police Hires Could Get Loan Forgiveness

June 16, 2024
A candidate for mayor in San Francisco has proposed a fund to provide up to $25,000 for new fire, police and dispatch hires.

Jun. 15—As San Francisco struggles to hire enough police officers, nurses, 911 dispatchers and other first responders, a San Francisco supervisor is proposing a student loan forgiveness fund to help boost staffing.

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who is running for mayor, wants to start a new $1 million fund to forgive up to $25,000 in student loan debt for newly hired first responders after three years of service.

The fund would cover any student loan debt new hires incurred before joining the city as well as any job-related education and training expenses that aren't already eligible for reimbursement. He said the legislation, which would need approval by the Board of Supervisors, would be funded through philanthropy as well as "looking for cost savings" within the police department budget.

"If we want to see more sheriff's deputies, firefighters and police officers, we have to put the incentives in place to recruit people and retain them," Safaí said. "If you come in with debt, we're going to help support you, support your family and help with the sacrifices you've made to be part of the city and county."

Safaí's proposal comes as San Francisco deals with hundreds of open positions in its police and sheriff's departments, 911 call center and city-run clinics and hospitals. Safaí has warned the staffing crisis is leaving the city ill-prepared to tackle its public safety issues and provide vital medical and other city services.

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San Francisco's citywide vacancy rate is 8.2% with about 1,870 vacant positions and the city has hired more than 10,000 employees over the last 12 months, according to the Department of Human Resources.

The rates vary greatly by department. The police department is still dealing with a vacancy rate around 19.8%, up from 18.5% last year, and 911 call operators have a vacancy rate at 10.1%. Vacancy rates at the fire department are about 4.1%. They're much lower among nursing positions at just 1.4%.

The difficulty in hiring police in particular has been top of mind for many city leaders, including Mayor London Breed — who has pushed to bolster police staffing and funding — as well as supervisors who are under pressure from constituents complaining about sluggish officer response.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who is also running for mayor, is working on a different loan forgiveness program specifically for the police department. His plan would take money from the police department's budget to create a fund that would forgive up to $100,000 in student debt for new officers over five years.

New hires would receive $20,000 in loan forgiveness every year for up to five years if they stay on the force. He said it's to determine how much it will cost because he's not sure how many new officers will want to take advantage of the program.

He said he's open to working with Safaí to combine the two bills.

"These things are not mutually exclusive, and once we figure it out, we can see if they can work together," Peskin said. "But the devil is in the details."

Safaí will introduce the legislation during Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting. Peskin will send Safaí's legislation to a committee, and the full board should vote on the proposal sometime this summer.

Safaí said if emergency response staff feel supported, they're more likely to stay in the city.

"I've talked to firefighters and paramedics and sheriff's deputies. What I hear over and over again is they need more support and incentives to do these difficult jobs," Safaí said. "The best way to recruit people is by word of mouth. When you show people that they are taken care of, that will spread and they'll know we are elevating and prioritizing them."


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