Bayview Police Station Capt. Greg Suhr, 52, a 30-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, will be announced as the new chief today, according to City Hall sources.
The ascension to the The City’s top-cop position has been a long and sometimes-rocky road for Suhr, who managed to survive the knockdown rumor mill that pervades the Hall of Justice.
Suhr’s experience and keen knowledge of The City’s workings finally won over Mayor Ed Lee, who decided that a popular insider was the best choice for The City after a tumultous transition that had elevated a relative newcomer, Jeff Godown, to the interim chief’s post.
Lee, who was appointed mayor after Gavin Newsom assumed his elected position as lieutenant governor in January, was in a unique position to immediately fill the powerful top position after former police Chief George Gascón moved over to the District Attorney’s Office. Yet Lee took nearly a month to pick Suhr, raising concerns about the appointment.
Gascón had nothing but praise for Suhr, who helped implement the CompStat model at Bayview Station after Gascón returned him to the station. He had previously been demoted and sidelined by former Chief Heather Fong.
“Greg is very effective in the community,” Gascón said. “He did a good job in the Bayview; he’s very respected by the officers; he’s very respected by the community.”
Lee reportedly interviewed three candidates — Suhr, Cmdr. Daniel Mahoney and an unnamed outside candidate — after being forwarded the names by the Police Commission earlier this month.
Suhr is considered the favorite of the police union, which had been pushing Lee to appoint someone from inside the department.
Lee’s decision comes at a time when he’s negotiating with the Police Officers Association and other unions to make concessions on pay raises and pension payments.
In interviews Tuesday, colleagues said good things about Suhr.
“I think that Greg Suhr is an excellent candidate, and he’s done an excellent job of running Bayview Station,” said former police Chief Tony Ribera, who heads the University of San Francisco International Institute of Law Enforcement Leadership. “He’s also well respected by the rank-and-file.”
But Suhr also has his detractors, particularly his former boss Fong, who reassigned Suhr to the SFPUC after a 2005 demonstration in the Mission district turned into a riot. Suhr was directing the patrol unit during the incident, and rioters nearly killed a police officer after his patrol car got stuck on a burning mattress.
And Suhr was earlier embroiled in the infamous “fajitagate’’ incident in which off-duty officers got into a fight. Former District Attorney Terence Hallinan’s charges of obstruction against the entire department’s command staff were soon rejected by the courts, but the case created a smear against many top veterans such as Suhr, which hindered his rise to the top.
Fong would later demote Suhr from deputy chief to captain after he failed to report a domestic violence incident within the required 24 hours. Suhr defended his actions, saying the woman had specifically asked for him to wait to report the crime.
But the battles with Fong, who was blamed for low morale at the department, only endeared Suhr to police officers and several members of the Board of Supervisors.
“He will bring an energy and enthusiasm for the job that we have not quite seen,” said political consultant Jim Ross, a friend and confidant of Suhr. “He’s much more of a hands-on, on-the-ground kind of guy.”
That appeared to be the major hurdle in appointing Mahoney to the position. While he has an impeccable record, Mahoney has more experience as an administrator than with patrol, Ribera said.
“When you’re looking at captains of district stations, you’re in essence looking at a police officer running a department bigger than a majority of most police stations in California,” Ribera said. “I definitely would not choose an outside candidate. We’ve done it three times and it’s never worked out. I was a supporter of Gascón, but he was gone after a year.”