San Francisco Readies for New Top Cop

Incoming chief tackles technology, crime, department transparency

San Francisco's new police chief, an outsider from Arizona who has a reputation as a hardworking, no-nonsense reformer, will be sworn into office today.

George Gascon arrives from Mesa, Ariz., where he led that police department since 2006. Prior to that, he served 28 years in the Los Angeles Police Department.

Gascon has been studying the department closely and has determined the most important issues to take on first.

Bringing the department up to speed on a technological front is one of his top priorities. He will put into place a computer program called ComStat, which can help zoom in on crime trends in the City and determine how to best take on the rising homicide rate.

The new top cop will also work to improve ties with the community, change the way officers are disciplined and have sergeants assign officers to daily missions related to crimes or community functions and report the outcome back at the end of the day.

"Not all of this is going to happen overnight," Gascon told The Chronicle. "It's taken a long time to get to where we are. It's not going to take us long to fix it, but it's going to take some time."

The 55-year-old incoming chief takes over a department that has already seen a number of changes in the past few years under the leadership of  Heather Fong, who announced her retirement in December after four and a half years as chief.

During her tenure, Fong, San Francisco's first female police chief, oversaw changes including the implementation of foot patrols, new zone  policing strategies credited with recent drops in violence, and efforts to  foster better relationships between police and the community.

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

Former San Francisco Police Chief Tony Ribera, who led the department from 1992 to 1996, said that by selecting Gascon to replace Fong, the mayor's office and the Police Commission signaled that "it was time for a change."

However, he said, outsiders face particular challenges when implementing reforms.

"The track record of outsiders has not been very good," Ribera said in an interview Wednesday. "That doesn't mean that Chief Gascon won't be good," he added.

The most recent outsiders include Charles Gain, who was Oakland's police chief before taking over San Francisco's police department in 1975, and Richard Hongisto, a former Cleveland police chief and San Francisco supervisor.

Gain served for five years. Hongisto lasted 42 days before he was fired.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

Contact Us