Public safety adrift - Page 7

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

SFPD investigators suggested it was a suicide because the door was locked from the inside and did little to thoroughly investigate, although an investigation by the French government recently concluded that it was clearly a homicide.

Delagnes defended his colleagues, saying two of SFPD's most experienced homicide detectives handled the case and that "our guys are standing behind it."

A NEW DIRECTION?

Sparks said she didn't know Fong was planning to retire in April until 45 minutes before Chief Fong made the announcement on Newsom's December 20 Saturday morning radio show. "I think she decided it was time," Sparks told the Guardian. "But she's not leaving tomorrow. She's waiting so there can be an orderly transition."

By announcing she will be leaving in four months, Fong made it less likely that voters would have a chance to weigh in on the D.C.-based Police Executives Reform Forum's recommendation that the next SFPD chief be given a five-year contract.

"The mayor believes that the chief executive of a city needs to have the power to hire and fire his department heads in order to ensure accountability," Newsom's communications director Nathan Ballard told the Guardian.

According to the city charter, the Police Commission reviews all applications for police chief before sending three recommendations to the mayor. Newsom then either makes the final pick, or the process repeats. This is same process used to select Fong in 2004, with one crucial difference: the commission then was made up of five mayoral appointees. Today it consists of seven members, four appointed by the mayor, three by the Board of Supervisors.

Last month the commission hired Roseville-based headhunter Bob Murray and Associates to conduct the search in a joint venture with the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum, which recently completed an organizational assessment of the SFPD. Intended to guide the SFPD over the next decade, the study recommends expanding community policies, enhancing information services, and employing Tasers to minimize the number of deadly shootings by officers.

"The mayor tends to favor the idea [of Tasers] but is concerned about what he is hearing about the BART case and wants closer scrutiny of the issue," Ballard told us last week.

Potential candidates with San Francisco experience include former SFPD deputy chief Greg Suhr, Taraval Station Captain Paul Chignell, and San Mateo's first female police chief, Susan Manheimer, who began her career with the SFPD, where her last assignment was as captain of the Tenderloin Task Force.

"It would be wildly premature to comment on the mayor's preference for police chief at this time," Ballard told the Guardian.

Among the rank and file, SFPD insider Greg Suhr is said to be the leading contender. "He's very politically connected, and he is Sup. Bevan Dufty's favorite," said a knowledgeable source. "The mayor would be afraid to not get someone from the SFPD rank and file."

Even if Newsom is able to find compromise with the immigrant communities and soften his tough new stance on the Sanctuary City policy, sources say he and the new chief would need to be able to stand up to SFPD hardliners who push back with arguments that deporting those arrested for felonies is how we need to get rid of criminals, reduce homicides, and stem the narcotics trade.

"The police will say, you have very dangerous and violent potential felons preying on other immigrants in the Mission and beyond," one source told us. "They would say [that] these are the people who are dying.