New coach, new approach - Page 2

Police Chief George Gascón, just two months on the job, is already making big changes
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Photo by Charles Russo

If it stays at this level, Hennessey estimates that he'll need up to $3.5 million in additional annual funding to house the larger population, as he indicated in a letter that he wrote to the Board of Supervisors last month, letting them know that he will probably need a supplemental budget appropriate this year.

When we asked Gascón whether affected city agencies — including the Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's Office, and Public Defender's Office — should increase their budgets to deal with the SFPD's new approach, he said they should.

There's a touch of the corporate manager about Gascón. When we challenged him to defend the efficacy of the crackdowns, Gascón pulled out a pen and paper and started drawing a Venn diagram, with its three overlapping circles. He explained that many criminal justice studies have shown that about 10 percent of criminal suspects commit about 55 percent of the crime, that 10 percent of crime victims are the targets of about 40 percent of crimes, and that crime is often concentrated in certain geographic areas.

By concentrating on the overlap of these realms, Gascón said police can have a major impact on crime in the city. Although Gascón admits that "police can never arrest themselves out of social problem," he also said "there are people who do need to be arrested ... Most of the arrests are for serious felonies."

It's a potentially tricky approach — in essence, Gascón is saying that when you mix some people and some places (in this case, mostly people of color and mostly poor neighborhoods) you create crime zones. The difference between that and racial profiling is, potentially, a matter of degree.

But Gascón defended the surge in arrests over the last two months as targeting those who need to be arrested and, just as important, sending a message to the greater Bay Area that San Francisco is no longer a place where open-air drug dealing, fencing stolen goods, and other visible crimes will be tolerated.

"We need to adjust the DNA of the region," he said.

And while Gascón said the arrest surge might not be sustained indefinitely, he also frankly said that the city will probably need to spend more money on criminal justice going forward. In other realms of the recent crackdown, such as the police sweeps of Dolores Park and other parks ticketing those drinking alcohol, Gascón said that was more of a balancing act that will involve ongoing community input and weighing concerns on both sides of the issue.

It was when we pushed for the SFPD to ease up busting people in the parks who were drinking but not causing other problems that Gascón told us that the mayor had a different opinion and had been chiding his new chief to be tougher on public drinking.

In light of several recent shootings by SFPD officers of mentally ill suspects, we asked Gascón whether he's satisfied with how the department and its personnel handle such cases. He didn't exactly admit any problems (saying only that "there's always room for improvement") but said he was concerned enough to create a task force to investigate the issue last month, headed by Deputy Chief Morris Tabak.

When we asked if we can see the report on the 90-day review, Gascón didn't hesitate in answering yes, "the report will be public."

 

FIRE TEN COPS?

If Gascón follows through with his promises, internal discipline — one of the worst problems facing the department — could get a dramatic overhaul. The new chief wants to clear up a serious backlog of discipline cases, possibly by reducing the penalties — but claims to be willing to take a much tougher stand on the serious problem cases.

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