San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong made her formal retirement announcement to the Police Commission Monday evening, as commissioners indicated the search for a new police chief might have to extend beyond her retirement date.
"I would be surprised if we could find somebody, and get them on board, in six months," Commission President Theresa Sparks told reporters after the meeting. "I would say we're looking at six to eight months, if I had to guess."
Fong announced her intention to retire in April, after five years as police chief, during a Dec. 21 radio program hosted by Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Her prepared remarks before the commission tonight were brief, thanking the commissioners for their support, and pledging to continue through April to implement the department's violence reduction initiatives and address budgetary challenges and other reform efforts.
Fong told reporters before the meeting that "retiring is kind of bittersweet," but she said she was optimistic about the direction the Police Department was taking.
She said it was "a good time to make a change" and begin the implementation of the several reforms recommended by an ongoing, independent review of the department's organization, policies and procedures.
"I have a lot of work between now and when I actually leave," Fong added.
It was unclear what her retirement plans are.
"When I leave, then I'll take a break, and take a breather, and figure out what's next," said Fong, who according to Sparks has not taken a single vacation during her five-year tenure.
Fong, who became San Francisco's first female police chief in April 2004 and is also the first Asian American to hold such a post in a major city, was roundly praised by both the commissioners and members of the public who spoke at the meeting.
Commissioner David Onek praised her as "a model public servant," and noted her "integrity and professionalism."
"She truly is one of San Francisco's finest," said Commissioner Thomas Mazzucco.
Sparks said Fong "brought a sense of calm, a sense of integrity...and a sense of confidence" to the department.
Members of the public also lauded Fong's work in the community, in particular, her efforts to bring the department to work more closely with San Francisco's large Chinese community.
Commissioner Petra DeJesus echoed the others' sentiments, but also added a note of disappointment at the timing of Fong's initial retirement announcement.
"I do have to say, it would have been nice to hear, before it was publicized on the radio," said DeJesus.
In addition to surprising many by the choice of a Saturday morning radio announcement right before the holidays, Fong's retirement date has allowed only a small window for the commission to hire an outside firm to conduct a nationwide search.
If a new chief is not appointed by April, then either current Assistant Chief Jim Lynch would take over, or an interim police chief would be selected by Newsom from a list of candidates provided by the commission, a process similar to the appointment of the new chief.
Sparks said she had no preference should a new chief not be found by then.
"The current assistant chief is a very capable guy, and I would see no reason not to appoint him," she said.
Until then, Sparks pledged to work with the mayor's office through a "clean, clear process" without "any perception of wrongdoing."
"It's my job, and the commission's job, to maintain the integrity of the process," said Sparks.
The names of candidates selected by the commission will be forwarded confidentially to the mayor's office, she said. The mayor can then choose one of the candidates, or reject all of them and begin the selection process anew.