In sophomore year, SF Supervisor Dorsey talks new police staffing proposals, recovery as the 'new closet'

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday May 3, 2024
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Castro Community on Patrol Chair Greg Cary, left, District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, San Francisco Police Department Captain Christopher Del Gandio and CCOP's Ken Craig, all gay men, participated in a meeting of the SFPD's LGBTQ+ Advisory Forum meeting at the UCSF Mission Bay campus May 1. Photo: John Ferrannini
Castro Community on Patrol Chair Greg Cary, left, District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, San Francisco Police Department Captain Christopher Del Gandio and CCOP's Ken Craig, all gay men, participated in a meeting of the SFPD's LGBTQ+ Advisory Forum meeting at the UCSF Mission Bay campus May 1. Photo: John Ferrannini

With his initial proposal hitting a political roadblock earlier this year, gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey is working on a new charter amendment to bolster staffing levels at the San Francisco Police Department.

Dorsey, a former spokesperson for Police Chief William Scott, detailed how it is taking shape at the department's recent meeting with its LGBTQ advisory group, during which he also opened up more about his own battles with drug addiction.

Meanwhile, another member of the forum said a Castro safety group is currently planning active shooter and self-defense classes, as well as a hate crimes forum.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, the LGBTQ+ Advisory Forum meets several times a year. Its latest meeting was May 1 at the UCSF Mission Bay campus.

Dorsey told the group how he initially proposed what became Proposition B on the March primary ballot as a way to address the city's police staffing shortage. Until 2020, the city charter required 1,971 full-duty police officers. Though this goal was often not met, Dorsey said it "did keep the city honest in not risking such a shortfall that we were risking a lawsuit."

"Since we changed the charter in 2020, there was a new process created that was new instead of a static number," he said. "But nothing happened unless the mayor and supervisors decided something should happen, and unfortunately, there has not been political will since 2020."

Currently, though the city should have over 2,000 sworn officers according to the number yielded by that new process, it has 1,450.

"We have never been this understaffed in our history, ever, at least in modern history," he said.

Dorsey proposed what became Prop B as a new minimum-staffing level, but before the measure went to the ballot, it was hijacked by "political gamesmanship," he said.

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who is running for mayor this year, insisted that hiring needed to be paid for via a tax increase, and in a 6-5 vote that version went on the March ballot. It was rejected by voters 72%-28%.

Dorsey said he was heartened by the public opposition to Prop B — and in its wake he is proposing another way to address SFPD's staffing difficulties.

"I do have a charter amendment that will not be a 'cop tax' ... but will create incentives for people to not retire and numbers for a minimum staffing level in the charter," Dorsey said, referring to the language opponents used for Prop B.

Dorsey said that the measure is crucial to protect business — and the city's tax base — citing the closure of the mid-Market Whole Foods last year and Macy's decision to vacate its flagship store on Union Square.

"This is such a major part of our economy," he said, adding most of the constituent service requests his office deals with could be solved or helped if there were more police officers.

The public safety crisis in San Francisco had led to public malaise and disdain for government, Dorsey said, adding that his district is "really discouraged about city government and questions whether anyone cares."

Dorsey shared an anecdote from his days as a new supervisor, at the 2022 Pride parade, when a constituent recognized him on the Market Street parade route and gave him a piece of his mind.

"He said, 'I was just cited for having an open container of beer,'" Dorsey recalled. The constituent was upset that he was penalized for beer while just blocks away were open drug markets, and Dorsey said he understood that enforcing parking violations, for example, upsets citizens as they deal with more pressing quality-of-life issues.

"'Look at what's going on there — Seventh and Mission, Eighth and Mission [streets] — it is delegitimizing to government itself, and I feel very strongly about this as a liberal Democrat," Dorsey said. "I want a government that rises up to the expectations of the people we serve. ... You shouldn't have to feel personally invested to know this is priority No. 1."

Those issues include the city's overdose crisis, which prompted Dorsey to seek appointment from Mayor London Breed to the District 6 supervisor seat in 2022 when it was vacated by now-Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco). Dorsey's two-year anniversary in the seat is May 9.

Dorsey was elected in his own right later that year. One of his main challengers was Honey Mahogany, a Black trans person. On May 2, Mahogany was appointed by Breed to lead the city's Office of Transgender Initiatives, as the B.A.R. reported.

Dorsey hailed Mahogany's hiring in an X post, stating, "Congratulations to @HoneyMahogany, and thanks to Mayor @LondonBreed, on a stellar pick to lead @TransCitySF! This assures San Francisco's national leadership for our LGBTQ+ and TGNCI2S communities — at a time when national leadership is urgently needed."

Substance use issues

Dorsey, who is living with HIV, has also been open about his struggle with drug addiction, recalling that when he was in his role doing communications work for the SFPD he relapsed.

"I had a setback during COVID myself — it was alarming, even though I spent most of my life in recovery," he said. "I was one mistake away from dying."

Dorsey said today's drug overdose crisis reminded him of the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s before the advent of medications to prevent people with the disease, largely gay and bi men, from dying.

"The stigma of who's dying is masking the horror," he said of those now being killed by easy-to-obtain opiates.

Last year was the deadliest on record for drug overdoses in San Francisco — with 806 deaths reported, topping 2020's record 647 deaths. Dorsey said that new drugs like fentanyl — 2 milligrams, he said, is a lethal dose — have entered the drug supply.

"This is a more lethal, potently addictive and deadly drug than we've ever seen before," he said. "It's heartbreaking to hear moms begging their kids to please become heroin addicts."

Dorsey said that he will soon be introducing several new initiatives to help stem the tide, such as having the San Francisco Public Library system provide free recovery literature to people who request it.

Another idea, he said, are recovery and sobriety bonus incentives where "if you submit to drug tests, we'll pay you."

He made another comparison — "identifying the recovery community as the new closet" that people are coming out of — and citing Board of Supervisors President and mayoral candidate Aaron Peskin and new Democratic County Central Committee member Cedric Akbar as examples. Peskin acknowledged in 2021 that he had a drinking problem and entered recovery.

"I hadn't heard that analogy, but I like it," Peskin told the B.A.R. "I've been very public about it. It's interesting — addiction and alcoholism comes with lots of stigma and shame even though it's something that affects millions and millions of people and has impacts on people's families. It's kind of like mental health. Everyone brushes it under the carpet, and I'm out and I'm proud."

Peskin said that being open about his struggle with alcoholism has allowed others to approach him.

"It's actually been remarkable because the fact I'm public about it has not only given license to lots of people who have gone through it to share that with me, and it's been important to them and important to me," he said. "I even had a really touching story where I was at a community meeting and afterward someone followed me outside and said he really appreciated what he read in the paper and said, 'I have a serious alcohol problem, can you help me?' I picked him up and took him to a meeting and he's on his way to sobriety now. I'm not only helping myself and people close to me but I think it's important for everybody and there's nothing to be ashamed of."

Akbar, executive director of Positive Directions Equals Change in the city's Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood, did not return an immediate request for comment. Among the clients his organization provides services to are those dealing with addiction.

He has been public about being a recovering addict himself, as in this 2023 segment about the city's fentanyl crisis by the local CBS News affiliate KPIX 5.

Dorsey said that one of the things that heartened him most was that when he was first appointed to the board, someone in his recovery group said, "Finally, we have a seat at the table."

Public safety events coming up

Greg Carey, a gay man who is chair of Castro Community on Patrol, said that the group's next active shooter training is set for Saturday, June 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. Anyone 18 or older can register to attend and pre-registration is required at Tickets are $20.

The following week, a beginners self-defense class is set for Saturday, June 15, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Anyone 18 or older can attend and pre-registration is required at the above website. Tickets are $30.

It was for these classes that Carey and his group were recognized by the FBI last month with a ceremony in Washington, D.C., as the B.A.R. previously reported. It came after separate awards from Breed and the Board of Supervisors. Carey brought the awards to the forum.

"We were the only one of the 56 awardees with anything to do with queer life," he said. "Most had to do with human trafficking. Some were about education about religious types of bias. It was an extremely great honor."

CCOP is also hoping to have a forum on hate crimes involving the DA's office and the FBI. An invite-only event last year at The Academy on Market Street attracted considerable interest, and Carey hopes to bring it to a wider audience.

Ken Craig, who is also with CCOP, said of the other FBI awardees, "All of the groups did incredible work in unique areas and are making life better in the U.S."

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