Police chief: SFPD dignitary security costs were a mystery even to him

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By Rebecca Bowe

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon offered an explanation yesterday for why it took so long for the San Francisco Police Department to provide any figures whatsoever on how much it spends on security detail for elected officials: Apparently, no one really had any idea what the costs actually were.

“Quite frankly, when I first came here I asked multiple times, how much are we spending in dignitary protection? And I could not get the answer within my department,” Gascon told the Board of Supervisors yesterday.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi first began asking for this information back in July. “When we got the first cut of information approximately two weeks ago, I looked at it and I said, this information does not seem right,” Gascon recounted. “Go back and work on this.”

When his staff finally produced a figure of around $2 million for all dignitary security costs for the budget year ending in June 2009, Gascon says he immediately shared that figure with the media and members of the Board. This past weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a front-page story about the cost, which includes protection for the mayor, politicians visiting from outside San Francisco, and others.

“I don’t believe it is copasetic to allow a black ops budget to exist” within the SFPD, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi said at yesterday’s Board meeting, during a discussion about legislation he introduced to require elected officials to reimburse the city for the cost of bodyguards on the SFPD payroll when they’re out on the campaign trail.

Mirkarimi scaled back his legislation with amendments that the rule would only apply when officials campaign outside the state of California, and stretched out the reporting timeline to make it easier on SFPD staff.

While the proposed legislation requires the police to submit a detailed breakdown of security costs for each official, Mirkarimi said he’d left it open so that the information could be shared in closed session only. So it won’t necessarily become public information.

Despite these amendments, Gascon told the Supervisors yesterday that while he is committed to transparency, he still opposes the legislation. “I would hate to think that one of you, the future Diane Feinsteins of the San Francisco area, would have to pay for dignitary security,” Gascon told the Supes. “I dare say that if some of you had to pay for your own security because you were running for office … more than likely you will not pay for the security and you will place yourself at risk.”

Mirkarimi told the Guardian later that the legislation revolves around sunshine and fiscal accountability. “I think we have prompted and instigated significant inroads, for example they’ve published … what that aggregate cost is -- they’ve never done that,” he said. "It’s been amazing that for all these decades there has been no disclosure on this item."

Because the amendments required it to go through the approval process again, the legislation was referred back to committee.

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