New SF Police Chief Has Uncertain Livable Streets Credentials

Mayor Gavin Newsom, in a press conference today with most of the elected and appointed political class, named former Mesa Arizona Police Chief George Gascón to the top job in the SFPD. The mayor said the police commission had conducted 49 public outreach sessions and reviewed 88 total candidates for the job before sending the top three picks to his office.

Newsom highlighted Gascón's bonafides, particularly stressing his 24 years of experience in the Los Angeles Police Department, including two years as Assistant Chief to William Bratton, who is famous for implementing "broken windows" crimefighting tactics under former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Chief Gascón has a keen understanding of the public safety issues facing San Francisco, whether its foot patrols, sanctuary city, or gang violence," said Newsom. "I have no doubt that he will do a fine job and I look forward to him rolling up his sleeves and getting to work."

Gascón said that he was committed to honoring the needs of San Francisco's diverse public while ensuring public safety. He also had positive words for police officers in general, saying:

I believe that good, hard-working, ethical police officers are some of the most honorable human beings that walk the face of the earth. If you're a hard-working, ethical police officer, you will have my support. If you're not, we will have to talk. For those people who are committed to public safety, they will be very pleased. It will be an incredible ride for them. For those that are committed to parking under a tree and marking time, they're going to be very unhappy. We don't have time to look the other way, we only have time to look forward... to ensure that San Francisco becomes the safest large city in the country.

While he struck several positive notes on public safety and despite being touted by many elected officials at the announcement for his embrace of COMPSTAT and other technology innovations in LA, Gascón was not specific on issues of safety for street users nor methods for improving traffic enforcement. When Streetsblog asked how in general he would preserve and enhance pedestrian safety, he responded:

I believe as we continue moving forward with many of the reforms that have already started and we continue to enhance the quality of public safety in the city and working with all the stakeholders...because public safety by the way is not all the responsibility of the police, it's the responsibility of everyone including you in the media. I'll be reaching out to you on a regular basis for help in communicating our message. We will be working together to determine how we can use the resources we have available and work with different problems.

When asked if he would adopt systems for collecting traffic crime data like the COMPSTAT spin-off TRAFFICSTAT used in New York City, he said, "In my opinion COMPSTAT is about assessing the operations, so not only do we look at crimes, but we will look at traffic, and we will also look internally.  We're going to be looking at discipline, we're going to be looking at administrative systems, we look at the entire operation."

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu hoped that the recently established MOU was only the beginning of enhanced accountability and cooperation between MTA and SFPD. "It's only the first step of ensuring that we are using every penny in our police department to ensure safety around our traffic and transit corridors.  We will be monitoring that, we will be looking at expenditures, as well as performance of the police officers that are working with our MTA, and really holding the MTA and the police department accountable to that."

Streetsblog asked Chiu if he thought the new police chief would use better data analysis to target areas of rampant failure to yield to pedestrians violations or if he would literally ticket those who were "committed to parking under a tree" on sidewalks.

"I certainly hope for our pedestrians and our cyclists and our transit users that there is a focus on our street crimes, because literally what you're talking about is street crime."