San Francisco City Hall Shell Game Surprises Most

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    A whirlwind three days in San Francisco politics has left the city  with a likely new interim mayor, four new supervisors and today, a new  district attorney, former Chief of Police George Gascon, as well as a new  police chief.

      The appointment of City Administrator Ed Lee as interim mayor,  expected Tuesday, was surprising enough. Selected Friday by the Board of  Supervisors, he will become the city's first Chinese-American mayor,  replacing now Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom favored the choice of Lee over  others being considered by many of the board's progressive members.
     
    Added to the city's political mix are four new supervisors on the  11-member legislative board, who were sworn in Saturday. The composition of  the new board is considered slightly more moderate.
     
    And Sunday, in his final act as mayor, Newsom appointed Gascon as  district attorney to replace Attorney General Kamala Harris.
     
    Gascon said today he was "completely unprepared" for Newsom's  phone call Saturday.
     
    "Frankly, at 12:45 Saturday afternoon, if you had mentioned that  this position would be available to me, I would have laughed," he told  reporters this morning inside his new office on the third floor of the Hall  of Justice.
     
    After consulting with his wife and then with other city officials,  Gascon agreed to the appointment about four hours later, he said.
     
    Though never a prosecutor, Gascon is an attorney and an active  member of the State Bar of California. He served as an assistant police chief  in Los Angeles and was police chief in Mesa, Ariz., before being named chief  in San Francisco 18 months ago.
     
    During his tenure, Gascon has made changes to the San Francisco  Police Department's methods of tracking crime in real time and analyzing the  data, holding district captains accountable for crime trends in their  neighborhoods, and initiating new community dialogues.
     
    Gascon failed at an attempt to get the police commission to allow  Tasers for the department, but oversaw overall reductions in crime citywide  in the past two years.
     
    He has also guided the department through fierce criticism in the  wake of last year's crime lab scandal, when it was revealed that a former  criminalist had been stealing cocaine from evidence. Prosecutors at the time  dropped hundreds of drug cases as a result.
     
    The department took another hit when it came to light that police  did not inform prosecutors of the prior misconduct of officers who were  called to testify in court, information that is required by law to be  revealed to the defense. Gascon and Harris established formal written  guidelines for the release of that information.
     
    Gascon today addressed his rationale for taking the district  attorney position.
     
    "The reason why I have accepted this is because I believe that it  will offer me an opportunity to continue the work that I have been engaged in  for the last six or seven years, and it has to do with the reforming of the  criminal justice system," he said.
     
    Until now, Gascon said, he had primarily viewed such reform  through the prism of the Police Department.
     
    "This will give me the opportunity to bring policing and  prosecution closer together," he said.
     
    Gascon sought to reassure the public that he was fit to become the  city's top prosecutor.
     
    "I am not a prosecutor by trade, and I recognize that," he said.  "But we have a lot of good men and women in this organization that are. And I  was not hired here to prosecute cases, I was hired to continue to bring the  good work that has been done in the past, and then bring other things on  board."
     
    Gascon said he got a "very warm" response from staff at the  district attorney's office this morning. He also had kind words for Harris.
     
    "Kamala and I work very well together," he said, noting he had  endorsed her for attorney general. "I think Kamala is an incredible  professional, great visions."
     
    One difference between the two is his stance on the death penalty.  While Harris opposes it, Gascon said he would consider it in especially  "heinous" cases.
     
    However, Gascon stressed that charging death penalty cases is very  expensive.
     
    In addition to the appointment of a second defense attorney in  such cases, there is also an additional penalty phase of the trial, and there  are often greater costs for expert witnesses and investigators, as well as  for appeals.
     
    Gascon said he simply wanted to make sure "that tool is available  to us."
     
    Though he said it was still too early to detail specific changes  he would bring to the district attorney's office, Gascon painted a broad  vision of reforming the criminal justice system, which he called "broken."
     
    "I don't believe that we can continue to incarcerate people at the  rates that we have been for the last 20 years," he said. "It is unsustainable  economically, and it is unsustainable socially."
     
    Gascon was also asked about bridging the at-times strained  relationship between police and prosecutors in San Francisco.
     
    "Officers generally complain that the prosecutors aren't  aggressive enough, and prosecutors often complain that the police are not  doing a good enough job to create a prosecutable case.
     
    "Well now I have the opportunity that I can complain to myself,"  he said, chuckling, "and then come up with a solution that will obviously  involve people in both the Police Department and the District Attorney's  Office."
     
    Gascon has still not had the chance to address most of the Police  Department about his departure. He noted that some might be disappointed by  the sudden change.
     
    "I have done this with a very heavy heart," he said. "My body and  soul has been in policing for most of my adult life."
     
    He said that while the change might bring some instability to the  department, he stressed that an organization is not about any one person, but  "an entire team," and the structure that supports it.
     
    Gascon called the Police Department's command staff "very strong  professionals."
     
    "They have the ability to continue to move the Police Department  in the right direction," he said.
     
    Gascon also said he is gearing up to run for a four-year term for  district attorney in November. He acknowledged that he's never run for  political office.
     
    He said he hoped to bring "a more holistic" perspective to the  criminal justice system.
     
    "I believe that if we take a different look at how policing and  the prosecution work together, and hopefully eventually other partners, we  will be able to create even a safer San Francisco," Gascon said.
     
    The news was met with hopeful uncertainty by Public Defender Jeff  Adachi, who has publicly criticized the Police Department -- and especially  the district attorney's office -- for the crime lab and misconduct fiascos.
     
    Adachi said he had never heard of a sitting police chief being  appointed district attorney. He called Gascon "the inside-outsider."
     
    "There's really no track record to gauge what he's going to do,  and I think that's why there's some uncertainty as to how he would run that  office," Adachi said.
     
    On the other hand, Adachi noted Gascon's support for prisoner  re-entry programs and rehabilitative services. Adachi said those programs  will become all the more critical with more prisoners now being released by  the state back into local communities.  *** DUE TO WHAT? PRISON OVERCROWDING?  ***
     
    "My hope is that (Gascon) will expand opportunities for  individuals to get services and drug treatment, as opposed to incarceration,"  Adachi said.
     
    Adachi, however, is opposed to any use of the death penalty.
     
    "My experience with George Gascon is that he's very  straightforward, he will tell you what he knows and what he's going to do,"  Adachi said. "I always appreciated that."
     
    For now, Asst. Chief Jeff Godown, who worked with Gascon at the  Los Angeles Police Department and who Gascon brought to San Francisco, will  serve as the interim police chief.
     
    Godown met separately with reporters this morning on the fifth  floor of the Hall of Justice.
     
    He pledged to continue Gascon's efforts and initiatives, including  bringing the Taser issue back before the police commission in February and  continuing training of officers to enforce the city's new sit-lie ordinance.  He will also be addressing the department's budgetary difficulties with the  new mayor.
     
    "The rank and file have to understand that the mission is, we  still come to work, we still do our job, there will be no disruption in  service," Godown said. "We've got some good people in place, the men and  women of the SFPD are good people, and we'll be just fine."
     
    While Godown said he didn't expect and won't seek a permanent  appointment as police chief, he is looking forward to working with his old  boss.
     
    "I hope that...the relationship should be very good," Godown said.  "Now we've got a district attorney in place that's been on the other side of  the table, and I commented to (Gascon) yesterday, 'Well, I've got some cases,  I want to bring them to you immediately to see you file those for me,'" he  said. "So I think it'll be a good relationship."
     
    Godown would not specify which cases.
     
    Godown, a tall and imposing figure who rarely, if ever, smiles,  has held captains' feet to the fire at the department's weekly CompStat  meetings. He said today he would continue to run those meetings.
     
    A reporter asked him about his reputation as "bad cop" to Gascon's  "good cop."
     
    "The complaint I get from a lot of people is that I hold them  accountable," Godown reflected.
     
    "And if holding people in this department accountable for what  they're supposed to be doing, if holding officers accountable for what they  do, makes me a 'bad cop,' I'm good with that."

    Bay City News