New coach, new approach - Page 3

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

In fact, Gascón said he wants the authority to fire cops — that power now rests entirely with the Police Commission — and said there are eight to 10 police officers on the San Francisco force who should be fired, now, for their past record of bad behavior. That would be a radical change — in the past 20 years, fewer than five officers have ever been fired for misconduct, despite the fact that the city has paid out millions in legal settlements in police-abuse cases.

Gascón also discussed controversial legislation by Sup. David Campos that would require due process before undocumented immigrant youths arrested by the SFPD are turned over to federal immigration authorities, an amendment to the sanctuary city policy that was weakened by Newsom.

Just days after arrived in town, Gascón had made comments to the San Francisco Chronicle supporting Newsom's position and saying that under Campos' legislation, "drug or even violent offenders could be released by judges on reduced charges in lieu of reporting them for possible deportation."

But in the interview with us, while not backing away from his previous statement, Gascón seemed to take a more nuanced position that pointed toward the possibility of compromise. He reminded us that he'd spent time in Mesa, Ariz., tangling with a county sheriff, Joe Arpaio, who has gone far beyond any reasonable standard in trying to arrest and deport undocumented residents. He also told us that he doesn't think the cops, by themselves, should decide who gets turned over the feds for deportation.

That alone is a significant step — and suggests that Gascón could turn out to be one of Newsom's best hires.

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GASCON ON IMMIGRATION

SFBG Are you still concerned about waiting for the courts to determine a suspect's guilt before turning him over to the feds? Gascón Yes, it's very much a concern. And by the way, I fully understand the concerns Sup. David Campos brings to the table.

I have the benefit of being on the other side also, where you have police agencies aggressively engaged in immigration enforcement, where people that frankly were not engaged in any criminal activity other than being here without authority — which sometimes, by the way, is not criminal. In fact, depending on whose numbers you listen to, anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of people who are here without authority in this country have not committed a criminal violation; they have committed an administrative violation.

And people get deported. I have seen very young people, people that basically came to this country when they were three, four years old, they are actually staying clean, they are going to school, and they get stopped for a traffic violation at age 17 or 18, and now all of a sudden they are getting deported to a country where they really have no roots at all. I have seen that, and I'm very sensitive to that.

On the other hand, I think it's important also to recognize that in any group, whether you were here legally or not legally, whether you were born here or not, whether you are green, red, or brown, there are people that for a variety of reasons aren't willing to live by the social norms we all need to live by to be able to have a peaceful environment.

I think that allowing the process to go all the way to the point where a judge decides whether to allow this to continue ... is probably too far down the food chain for my comfort level. On the other hand, I would not want to have police officers on the streets stopping people and trying to assess whether they are here legally or not.

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