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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Top Cop George Gascon Meets The Press

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 1:31 PM

click to enlarge Incoming Police Chief George Gascon addresses the sweating throngs of the fourth estate, as Mayor Gavin Newsom looks on - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Incoming Police Chief George Gascon addresses the sweating throngs of the fourth estate, as Mayor Gavin Newsom looks on
There are two times in life when it's pretty much guaranteed that everyone will find something nice to say about you: Your wedding and  your funeral. It was a little bit of both today in Room 200 of City Hall, when incoming Police Chief George Gascon was given a hero's welcome while his predecessor, Chief Heather Fong, politely looked on -- and was lauded as well.

It was a bit of an odd dichotomy to hear official after official review Gascon's resume -- which is truly impressive -- and talk about how this progressive, tech-savvy, results-oriented man was going to come in here and electrify the San Francisco Police Department ... yet still give his predecessor, Fong, a commendation for her excellent "stewardship" (this was Mayor Gavin Newsom's word of the day; he may have used it six times). It would seem that two, mutually exclusive planes of reality exist in San Francisco simultaneously -- just the way Erwin Schrödinger gave us the counter-intuitive notion of a cat being 100 percent dead and 100 percent alive concurrently. In any event, as Newsom put it, this was Gascon's day -- and the incoming chief said all the right things.

Gascon, currently the chief of the Mesa, Arizona police department, graciously thanked the folks who hired him and Fong. He said he wanted the San Francisco Police Department to be, above all else, "humane" -- "Good, hard-working, ethical police officers are some of the greatest people in the world," he said in his high-pitched, Cuban-accented voice. "If you are a hard-working, ethical police officer, you have my support. If you're not, we have to talk. We don' t have time for that. We only have time to move forward."  

Gascon -- who will take the department's reins in July or early August -- continued that there is "no reason San Francisco shouldn't be the safest large city in the country."

While Newsom last week implied that the Board of Supervisors' budget proposal to trim public safety departments' operating expenses gave his then-unannounced potential chief pause on whether to accept the job, Gascon downplayed that notion. He said he'd been told by the mayor that public safety would be properly funded (if there were any commitments or hard-dollar figures for the police budget promised to the incoming chief, no one was saying). Supervisor David Campos praised Gascon as "a sophisticated man from Los Angeles" who understood the nature of budgetary give-and-take between the mayor and board of supervisors.

Among other policy positions that made the city officials standing behind Gascon nod in agreement (and nearly every elected or appointed official or department head in the city was crammed behind that podium, speaking to dozens of reporters -- making Room 200 resemble the Black Hole of Calcutta and grow hot, stuffy, and foggy):

  • Crime is down and the police department's clearance rate is up in Mesa;
  • He has promoted minority officers;
  • He has promoted LGBT officers;
  • He is a strong proponent of sanctuary city policies; he said that victims and witnesses need to be comfortable coming forward without fear of arrest for merely being undocumented. That said, he said he has no compunction about forwarding the names of any undocumented person arrested for a felony to immigration.
click to enlarge Gary Delagnes - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Gary Delagnes
When SF Weekly asked Gascon how long a commitment -- if any -- he has given to city officials, he smiled and replied "This is a great city and I've been made to feel very welcome." Perhaps this qualifies as an answer in a world in which cats are simultaneously dead and alive, but not this one. Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes, however, said he expects at least a two-year commitment from the chief -- and that Gascon, who serves at the pleasure of the mayor, will be here for at least as long as Newsom occupies Room 200.

Incidentally, Newsom told the assembled press that he'd honestly hoped to promote an insider to San Francisco's top cop job, but the quality of the outside candidates who applied was just too good to pass up. There are a number of words to describe the above statement ranging from "charitable" to "disingenuous." It's a good bet that Delagnes sides more with the latter -- and he expects those who'd pined for an insider like Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman or -- especially -- Captain Greg Suhr to not cut Gascon much slack.

By insisting on an outsider, Delagnes said the mayor and others "are telling our command staff and supervisory officers that they're not up to the task. There will be some bitterness there. It's up to George to stop that in its tracks immediately."

In a none-too-veiled swipe at Fong, Delagnes said that the feeling among officers that the chief "has got your back when you're doing the right thing has been missing for quite some time." He hopes that Gascon can do something about this. He gave high marks to Gascon -- but admitted that "surely we hoped for an insider."

Gascon, for his part, said he's used to being an outsider. In his current post, he was "an ousider in a place that's very hostile to outsiders -- and, what's more, I was an outsider from California, and the LAPD."

His message to his new officers was an interesting one: "If you're commited to public safety," then things will go well. "If you're commited to parking under a tree and marking time, you'll be very unhappy."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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