San Francisco Finds New Chief in the Desert

Mesa Police Chief George Gascon will replace Chief Heather Fong

Mayor Gavin Newsom has found his new police chief -- in Mesa, Arizona?

Yes. Mesa Police Chief George Gascon has been offered and has accepted a position as chief of police in San Francisco.

Mesa, population 450,000, could not be less similar to a world-class city like San Francisco: It's a desert boomtown near Phoenix known for its sprawling developments and congestion.

Newsom said Wednesday during a press conference at City Hall that Gascon "has a keen understanding of the public safety issues facing San Francisco."

Standing next to the mayor Wednesday, Gascon said "for those committed to public safety, it will be an incredible ride."  He beat out a total of 88 candidates.

“This news is extremely unfortunate, as together we have worked hard to reduce crime,” stated Sgt. Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association. “We are an improved, efficient-running department compared to the past.”

Efficiency is going to be Gascon's challenge in San Francisco, as the city grapples with budget deficits that may have put off other candidates from larger cities, such as Houston's Harold Hurtt.

“Whatever the circumstances are to the reasons why he chose to apply in another city, it is a big loss for the citizens of Mesa,” added Cota.  “Mesa has enjoyed record-setting declines in crime at a time when the city has no resources, 400 officers short of the national average and with employees wages cut by 2%.”

Gascon spent 28 years with the Los Angeles Police Department before taking the job in Mesa in 2006. He will replace outgoing chief Heather Fong later this summer.Mesa stats:

325 days of sun a year

Average temperature: 74.4

Elevation: 1,241

Area: 170.7 square miles

Population: 447,541

San Francisco stats:

Temperature tops 75 degree 28 days a year

Elevation: 52 feet

Area: 49 square miles

Population: 808,976

San Francisco Police Commission president Theresa Sparks, who was informed by the mayor of the decision Tuesday afternoon, said Gascon has "big city experience."

Gascon has "a tremendous crime fighting history" and experience in making organizational change, Sparks said.

Following a five-month search, the Police Commission unanimously nominated three applicants last week. Sparks declined to name the other two  applicants considered by the mayor.

"He will continue the reform initiated by Chief Fong," Ballard said.

Fong, a San Francisco native, became the city's first female police chief in April 2004. She began as an officer in 1977, moving up  through the ranks until her appointment by Newsom to head the department  following the resignation of Chief Alex Fagan Sr.

She presided over several departmental reforms, including the implementation of foot patrols, new zone policing strategies that have been  credited with recent drops in violence, and efforts to foster better  relationships between police and the community.

Fong was widely praised by city leaders for her integrity, honesty and strong work ethic, but faced criticism by some members of the department  who claimed she was not assertive enough as a leader.

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