Public safety adrift - Page 4

At this pivotal moment for law enforcement, will Newsom and his top deputies continue to let politics guide policy?
Illustration by Jason Crosby

"And we have cast a pall over the entire immigrant community. It will be difficult to undo that. Once people have been subjected to these tactics, it's not easy to return to a situation of trust. We are sowing the seeds of revolution."


When Newsom tapped Republican attorney Kevin Ryan to head the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice a year ago, the idea was that this high-profile guy might bring a coherent approach to setting public safety policy, rather than lurch from issue to issue as Newsom had.

Even City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who isn't considered close to Newsom, praised the decision in a press release: "In Kevin Ryan, Mayor Newsom has landed a stellar pick to lead the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. Kevin has been a distinguished jurist, an accomplished prosecutor, and a valued partner to my office in helping us develop protocols for civil gang injunctions. San Franciscans will be extremely well served by the talent and dedication he will bring to addressing some of the most important and difficult problems facing our city."

But the choice left most folks speechless, particularly given Ryan's history of prosecuting local journalists and supporting federal drug raids. Why on earth had the Democratic mayor of one of the most liberal cities in the nation hired the one and only Bush loyalist who had managed to get himself fired for being incompetent instead of being disloyal like the other fired U.S. Attorneys?

The answer, from those in the know, was that Newsom was seriously flirting with the idea of running for governor and hired Ryan to beef up his criminal justice chops. "If you are going to run for governor, you've got to get to a bunch of law and order people," one insider told us.

Ryan proceeded to upset civil libertarians with calls to actively monitor police surveillance cameras (which can only be reviewed now if a crime is reported), medical marijuana activists with recommendations to collect detailed patient information, and immigrant communities by delaying the rollout of the municipal identity card program.

"In the long run, hopefully, dissatisfaction with Ryan will grow," Assembly Member Tom Ammiano told us last year when he was a supervisor. "He could become a liability for [Newsom], and only then will Newsom fire him, because that's how he operates."

Others felt that Ryan's impact was overstated and that the city continued to have a leadership vacuum on public safety issues. "What has happened to MOCJ since Ryan took over?" one insider said. "He doesn't have much of a staff anymore. No one knows what he is doing. He does not return calls. He has no connections. He's not performing. Everyone basically describes him with the same words - paranoid, retaliatory, and explosive - as they did during the investigation of the U.S. attorneys firing scandal."

"I've only met him three times since he took the job," Delagnes said. "I guess he takes his direction from the mayor. He's supposed to be liaison between Mayor's Office and the SFPD. When he accepted the job, I was, OK, what does that mean? He has never done anything to help or hinder us."

But it was when the sanctuary city controversy hit last fall that Ryan began to take a more active role. Sheriff's Department spokesperson Eileen Hirst recalls that "MOCJ was essentially leaderless for five years, and Ryan was brought in to create order and revitalize the office. And the first thing that really happened was the controversy over handling undocumented immigrant detainees."

One prime example of Ryan's incompetence was how it enabled Russoniello to wage his successful assault on the city's cherished sanctuary ordinance last year.