Police Chief Confronts a City Gone to Pot

Crackdown on marijuana growers just a sign of quality-of-life problems George Gascon is dealing with

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Justin Sullivan
    George Gascon, San Francisco's new police chief, is tackling the city's quality-of-life conundrum.

    San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon hasn't been shy out putting his stamp on his new hometown. He's already launched a crackdown on the rampant drug peddlers that plague the Tenderloin. Now he's turning up the heat on pot growers in the city's Sunset District.

    Today the chief called a news conference to talk about the crackdown on the Sunset's growing armada of pot growers. But his style couldn't have been more different that his low-key predecessor, Heather Fong.

    It's a theatrical delivery more common to Gascon's past tenure in the Los Angeles Police Department than San Francisco: The chief gathered his top staff for the conference. Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and Supervisor Carmen Chu, whose district covers the Sunset were also there to put an exclamation mark on the issue.

    Confiscated guns were laid out on a table. The sophisticated electrical equipment the growers use to grow the pot was on display as well. Speakers from the department referred to projected PowerPoint slides.

    But Gascon says the issues plaguing San Francisco, aren't different than any other U.S. city. But he's making his mark cracking down on quality-of-life issues.

    "When you have general neglect, when you allow graffiti to go on, when you allow petty crimes to be going on unabated that totally leads to a sense of lawlessness that leads to other problems," said Gascon.

    San Francisco has had a troubled history tackling quality-of-life infractions. Operation Matrix, a program championed in the 1990s under Mayor Frank Jordan, himself a former police chief, drew wide-ranging protests. The legacy of Matrix and the city's many police watchdogs have not lessened the challenge for police.

    The result is a city that often seems out of control.

    Gascon pointed to the topic du jour: 36 pot-growing operations that police have busted since March. Dozens of guns have been confiscated as well as 84 thousand dollars in cash.

    "This is not an argument about legalization or not legalization," he said. "This is really about public safety."

    Police say the biggest concern is the DIY wiring jobs and remodeling the drug growers are performing on rental homes in the Sunset. But as one cop pointed out, if they're paying rents up to $3,000, and still turning up with wads of cash, business must be booming.

    Hayes-White, the fire chief, says her department has already responded to four grower-related fires this year. One firefighter was injured when a warehouse collapsed on him.

    After the press conference, Gascon stayed around to speak to reporters one-on-one, a situation Fong usually fled. It was another reminder that business as usual in the San Francisco Police Department, isn't the usual anymore.

    Now if only Gascon can do the same for the urban mess he's inherited.