Thursday, November 19, 2009

BOMA San Francisco Welcomes San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón

Ken Cleaveland, BOMA San Francisco Director of Government and Public Affairs, and San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón

BOMA San Francisco was honored to welcome George Gascón, San Francisco's new Police Chief, to our November luncheon at the City Club today to hear his thoughts on the future of San Francisco's Police Department. The following are the highlights from his address to the BOMA membership.

SFPD Chief George Gascón - Background

Police Chief George Gascón took lead of the San Francisco Police Department August 7, 2009. Prior to his move to San Francisco, Chief Gascón was the Chief of Police for the Mesa Police Department in Arizona for three years. Chief  Gascón proudly served the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for more than 28 years. In his final assignment before joining the Mesa Police Department, Gascón served as LAPD's Assistant Police Chief and Director over the Office of Operations.

Chief Gascón's hard-earned expertise in police accountability, community policing, police training, hiring practices, management accountability, and use of force have been highlighted in numerous professional settings. He is a published author and has written articles concerning police training.  Chief Gascón received a B.A. degree in History from California State University, Long Beach, and a Juris Doctor Degree from Western State University, College of Law. He is an active member of the California Bar Association.

Challenging Times

Tuesday's dire news from the Controller's Office regarding San Francisco's short-term budget outlook bodes ill for all city departments, including the SFPD.  As underfunded as the Department is currently, Chief Gascón mentioned that he will have to find $6-7 million dollars in cuts from their operating budget in the next few weeks.  In addition, the SFPD is expecting cutbacks of 10% for 2010.

The Good News

Although the SFPD's budget woes show no signs of abating, Chief Gascón maintained that this budget challenge is a perfect opportunity to shape the Department's future; that is, to help promote efficiency.  Helping the SFPD do more with less will, according to Chief Gascón, require the help of every group in the city: business interests, labor organizations, non-profit groups, etc., and support from the current political leadership at City Hall.

"Everyone will have to contribute," according to Gascón, “I'll do everything I can do to make this Police Department better and this City safer."

The San Francisco Police Department

Chief Gascón postulated that SFPD is comprised of high-performing individuals within a low-performing police department. Gascón pointed to the Department's antiquated business model, which is based on when San Francisco was "smaller" and, frankly, not what it is today.  He elaborated that the Department's centralization of  investigative resources is counter-productive and that each police station should share both patrol and investigative units to facilitate information sharing, which will bolster neighborhood relationship building efforts. This fundamental change in the structure of the City's police stations will allow for neighborhood resolution of casework and will also help bridge the communication gap that currently exists with the SFPD and some communities, according to Chief Gascón.  It is paramount, Gascón continued, to establish a structure that allows for regular and open communication with all members of the public. Doing so will increase their willingness to report criminal activity, and help solve crimes when they’re committed. However, that can’t happen until we build trust, and that can’t happen until we take our investigative units down into the various communities of San Francisco.

Of course, there are always some consequences to making changes, and in this case, the city’s district police stations were not physically built to accommodate additional personnel. The work spaces for the investigative units will initially be very small and cramped. Still, that is a small price to pay if we can increase the effectiveness and frequency of our officers’ communications with our City’s residents in reporting and reducing crime.

At Issue: SFPD Discipline Cases

SFPD discipline procedures are "broken-down with a capital 'B'" according to Chief Gascón.  To make matters worse, internal discipline procedures are written into the City Charter.  As such, in order for Gascón to make any changes, he needs to get approval from the San Francisco voters.

Chief Gascón elaborated on the realities of this issue:
  • There is a 3-6 year waiting period for adjudication of officer discipline cases.
  • It's demoralizing to wait that amount of time for a hearing, and it keeps officers from being fully productive. Within this group, there are good people who simply made a mistake, and the Police Chief should be able to determine who should be disciplined, what that disciplinary action should be, and allow those officers to proceed with a fresh start on their career.
  • Of the approximately 200 active disciplinary cases, only a handful, in Gascon’s opinion, would warrant “a career adjustment”.    
Gascón clearly stated that the Chief of Police should be in control of disciplining officers and that this effort is not "an assault on oversight" by the Office of Citizens Complaints or the Police Commission. As such, Chief Gascón will submit a measure on changing internal disciplinary procedures to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on December 15th with the intention of submitting the measure to the voters in June 2010.


San Francisco is "the most ill-equipped police department in the free world" to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks, according to Chief Gascón.  While most cities have a well-established intelligence unit, the City and County of San Francisco does not.  We are completely dependent on other agencies (e.g., the FBI) for these functions.

Everyone, in Gascón’s opinion, needs to get involved to remedy this deficiency.  He will be addressing this issue in more detail in the next few months as well as future intelligence gathering. Of course, addressing this need is complicated by the current city budget deficit.

BOMA San Francisco appreciated SFPD Chief Gascón's address to the membership today and we look forward to working closely with him via the Emergency Preparedness Committee to address issues related to the Police Department and the commercial real estate industry in the very near future.

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