'Three-Ring Circus' Of Immigrant-Bashing in Mesa, Ariz. May Have Hastened New SFPD Chief George Gascon's Departure

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George Gascon, San Francisco's police chief-to-be
By now, anyone even loosely following city government knows that San Francisco's next police chief is George Gascon -- and, if you've been following SF Weekly's coverage, you may even know how he stands on policy matters (and that he sounds a bit like a high-pitched Tony Montana).

But it was a full year ago, when Phoenix New Times ran this lengthy but well worth the read cover story, that staff writer Ray Stern foreshadowed that Gascon may have had his sights set on leaving Mesa, Arizona sooner rather than later. This, if you buy into the thesis put forth by Stern (and others) is that while Gascon turned around a police force that was arguably missing only Boss Hogg and Rosco P. Coltrane, upped the department's clearance rate on serious crimes, and reduced the city's tally of those crimes, the denizens of Mesa -- a conservative, largely Mormon suburb of Phoenix -- were more hung up with his treating illegal immigrants like, well, human beings.

Even Mesa Mayor Scott Smith -- a big Gascon backer -- told the New Times it was a safe bet that most of the city's 460,000 residents would rather Gascon sent his officers out with nets to go catch Mexicans than enforce his nuanced approach in which illegals can cooperate with law enforcement without fear of wanton detention (an approach, it warrants mentioning, that 17,945 law-enforcement agencies -- many in red counties -- support) . While many of Mesa's denizens would rather Gascon spend his time tossing Mexicans into a sack to be drop-kicked over the border, the new chief's sanctuary policies might actually be more conservative than prevailing views in San Francisco (or more "sensible" depending on your politics). Odds are, that's a breath of fresh air for Gascon, who compared the loud, ill-informed immigration diatribes in Arizona to a "three-ring circus."

Another issue of interest to San Franciscans -- and members of the SPFD specifically -- was the huge shakeup of the Mesa Police Department immediately after Gascon arrived:

Besides holding supervisors accountable ... he has ordered more detectives and officers to work late nights or weekends to focus resources when the most crime occurs -- a move, he says, that has saved $1 million in overtime costs.

Within his first year, the pressures of the new environment caused 10 of 14 top supervisors to retire. Whether he thinks it improved his department to remake the command staff is a sensitive topic.

"I don't want to cast aspersions," he says. "There's no question there were some early on who were not a fit, and they recognized it, and that doesn't necessarily make them bad. "They're not incompetent, bad people -- it's just, you know, things evolve."

So, it remains to be seen how many of the insiders passed over for San Francisco's top job -- as, incidentally, Gascon was himself when future ally William Bratton was named to Los Angeles' top post --  will be drawn close, as Bratton did with Gascon, or shown the door, as was the case with many of Gascon's underlings in Mesa.

Finally, while the article is largely positive with regards to Gascon -- as should be expected considering the treatment accorded the New Times by Gascon's arch-nemesis, the demagogic Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- it does point out a few flaws in the chief's edifice. In his unwavering faith in the "CompStat" system pioneered by former New York and current L.A. Police Chief William Bratton, Gascon comes off as something of a technocrat. Also, statistics he has cited claiming illegal immigrants do not commit disproportionate percentages of crime don't quite add up.

Finally, it still remains to be seen if San Francisco is just a stepping stone to Gascon's old stamping ground in L.A. (Gascon himself ducked this question when we asked him last week, stating only, "This is a great city and I've been made to feel very welcome.")

Last year LAPD Chief Bratton told the New Times that Gascon's post in Mesa "is not going to be his last police job." Wonder if that's still the case?

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