In January, the homicide detail worked only day shifts, and comprised a lieutenant, 14 inspectors, and two cold-case investigators. In February, the division added a night watch group with seven additional officers, allowing inspectors to respond immediately to nighttime murder scenes.

And in July, the department administered a taxing homicide entry exam. Rather than merely floating to the top of a wait list, candidates now had to submit to the SFPD equivalent of a Ph.D. orals board, defending to a panel of brass how they solved crimes in the past. Of the 15 who passed, eight moved to homicide, with two of those working the night crew.

Pardini is now overseeing a project that will turn the division's fourth-floor offices into an open-plan bullpen, without cubicle divisions between inspectors' desks. The idea is to create an information-sharing culture that will put as many minds as possible on difficult cases.

U.S. marshals arrested the fugitive Manuel Castro on Aug. 19. Evidence suggested he had gotten into a physical fight with Canales, his ex-girlfriend, which ended with him stabbing her, according to assistant district attorney Brian Buckelew. Four days before her death, detectives learned, Castro allegedly attacked and injured a male friend of Canales'. He is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 20, where the prosecution will report whether it has obtained all necessary evidence to proceed with a preliminary hearing.

Gascón gives credit to his new charges for helping improve the department's crime-solving record. But he points out that this has been a year with only 39 homicides so far, giving investigators more time to solve each case. Ten months is too short a span to determine whether the SFPD has really undergone a permanent revolution. "I think it's still early, although I'm very optimistic," he said. "People are being re-energized, and are using their expertise."

The next steps include installing technology that allows for DNA testing at the scene of a crime, and creating what Gascón calls a real-time, 24-hour crime center. "If there's a homicide, and if inspectors are rolling to a crime scene, we'll have officers at the center doing computer work, data mining, link analysis, vehicle location, and a lot of that work could be done before the inspectors get back into their office," he said.

If they keep this up, San Francisco could become a place where only brilliant murderers get away. Given the city's history, most of us would settle for that.

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