San Francisco District Attorney’s Office is going in new directions 

After only 17 months as San Francisco’s police chief, George Gascón managed to make staffing changes, reorganize the department, slash overtime and reduce crime. But now many wonder how, as the city’s newly appointed top prosecutor, he will transform the District Attorney’s Office.

Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes said Gascón would improve the office’s relationship with cops. Former District Attorney Kamala Harris, who left her city post to become state attorney general last week, had a falling out with the police union in 2004 when she refused to seek the death penalty in the killing of Officer Isaac Espinoza.

“That killed her for good with my members,” Delagnes said.

Gascón’s experience as a cop will lead to more homicide cases being tried and holding more people accountable for assaulting cops, according to Delagnes.

Former District Attorney Terence Hallinan questioned whether Gascón has the experience to make the right call on prosecuting cases.

While Harris was a career prosecutor, Gascón is not. Gascón, who earned a law degree at Western State University College of Law, rose in the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department and was the chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department before coming to San Francisco in August 2009.

“What does he know about prosecution?” Hallinan said.

Hallinan said the judgment a police officer uses in a case is probable cause, while a prosecutor has to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. “They have two completely different standards,” he said.

Making the wrong calls would result in unwinnable cases heading to trial, clogging up an already-crowded court system and wasting resources, according to Hallinan.

Gascón said it was too early to say where the office needs improving and what changes, if any, he would make. He said he would be talking with the office staff to hear what they have to say about it.

“I’m coming in with a fresh set of eyes,” he said.

After being tapped for the job by former Mayor Gavin Newsom, Gascón will serve out the remaining year of Harris’ term.

In a statement, Harris said, “I have great respect for George Gascón as a law enforcement professional and a public servant. There were many talented people eligible for the position. The most important thing is that the men and women of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office have a respected leader at the helm.”

Among the people eligible for the position was Paul Henderson, one of Harris’ top lieutenants. Henderson has already filed to run for district attorney in November. Gascón has said he also will run for the post.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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