You heard that right: San Francisco District Attorney and Police Chief George Gascon said at a press conference this afternoon that they don't know how many police officers in San Francisco have past criminal convictions.
The press conference came in the wake of damaging revelations in the San Francisco Chronicle
this morning that anywhere from 30 to 80-plus police officers in this city have been found guilty of crimes. As the Chron
reported, the failure to disclose these officers' criminal pasts to defense lawyers could put in jeopardy any convictions the D.A.'s office secured using the cops' testimony.
The issue of police employees' backgrounds has been brought to the fore by allegations of drug skimming against leveled former San Francisco crime-lab technician Deborah Madden
, who has been accused of stealing cocaine from the lab's narcotics division. "It became clear that we could not operate on certain assumptions," Harris said at today's press conference. "Including the assumption that members of the police department have not been convicted of a crime."
In his own press conference, held earlier in the day, Public Defender Jeff Adachi denounced Harris as "unethical" for not looking into the criminal histories of police officers who served as witnesses in court proceedings and said hundreds of convictions could be overturned as a result. Asked about Adachi's statements, Harris said, "It's irresponsible to incite fear, especially since there is no credible information about the number of officers involved or the number of cases that are involved at this point."
Gascon said he has asked the California Department of Justice to do a review of San Francisco police officers' criminal backgrounds. That's because, oddly enough, state rules guarding the personnel files of cops actually prevent police departments from using their computers and filing systems to research their employees' criminal histories. Go figure.