After the “Frisco 5” protesters starved themselves for 17 days in an attempt to get Mayor Ed Lee to replace police Chief Greg Suhr — by whose side the mayor continues to stand, even as like-minded supporters camp inside and outside City Hall and interrupt Lee's appearance at the Board of Supervisors — at least one voice from inside city government is now saying it's time for Suhr to ride off into the sunset.
In a statement released this morning that cited recent findings from a panel of judges that SFPD has a host of systemic problems, Supervisor Jane Kim called for the city to begin searching for its next police chief.
“Chief Greg Suhr has served San Francisco for over 30 years and we should thank him for that service,” Kim said in the statement. “But even he must acknowledge that leading a culture shift in that department would be easier and faster if there was new leadership there. It is time to launch a search for a new chief who can implement fundamental reform.”
Kim, keep in mind, is running for state Senate against her colleague Scott Wiener, who has molded himself as a staunch supporter of the police (and who Lee is endorsing). So it's a bit of a political move — but police chief is a political position.
[jump] Lee's press secretary did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, a police department spokesman said Suhr plans to stay put and implement some of the reforms already underway, including recommendations from an advisory group from the U.S. Justice Department called COPS.
The “Chief will not step down and will see that his Police Reform be implemented in the SFPD,” said Officer Albie Esparza, a department spokesman. “He has been working with the Mayor's Office and US DOJ COPS program on this reform so we may move the department forward.”
Recall that the police department has had to deal with several scandals involving racist text messages swapped by officers as well as the backlash from several highly-publicized fatal shootings of citizens by police. Last month, police shot and killed Luis Gongora, a 45-year-old homeless man who was allegedly wielding a knife, several months after 26-year-old Mario Woods was shot 20 times in the Bayview.
But if Suhr does go, Lee gets to make the selection for his replacement. There are several current San Francisco officers whose names keep appearing on shortlists for the next chief — including Deputy Chief Garret Tom, who runs the department's Special Operations bureau, and Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin, who is in charge of a new bureau called “professional standards and principled policing.”
Kim is not opposed to getting another outsider to lead the department in the mold of District Attorney George Gascon, who was chief of police here from 2009 to 2011 and who is responsible for assembling the blue ribbon panel of judges that says SFPD is FUBAR.
From Kim's statement:
“Many are calling for the Chief to be fired at once. I believe we could actually do worse than Chief Suhr, which is why we must begin this process at once so we can make sure the next chief can lead our department, reform it and do so in a way that rebuilds the community trust so vital to public safety.
“The reality is that as long as Chief Suhr continues to lead this department, as long as we focus on City Hall politics rather than the best interests of the city, we will be unable to truly address the very serious problems raised by this report and the very serious concerns raised by residents of San Francisco. And we certainly won’t be able to address the day-to-day problems facing our city such as the spike in property crime.
“We cannot allow loyalty to a single individual overshadow doing what is right for San Francisco. Our loyalty must be for the people of San Francisco and the rank and file officers who serve ably and deserve top-notch leadership.
“Simply asking for new training or new money is not enough. We need new leadership as well, and to make that shift in a way that protects the public and our police officers we should launch a national search at once. Perhaps we will find a candidate from the department who is ready to lead change. Perhaps we will not. But we owe it to the public and the police to find the very best leadership for our department.”
UPDATE: 1:20 p.m. We heard from Gary Delagnes, the former head of the Police Officers Association, who now serves the city's police union in an advisory role. The POA has opposed many of the reforms instituted by Suhr, the union's choice for the job, but is standing by the chief now.
“If they think replacing Suhr will change anything they are sadly mistaken,” he wrote via text. “The Far left in this City is in a feeding frenzy to go after our members — so have at it. They are cutting the heart out of a great department.”