California’s grand experiment with its criminal justice system is going to tax the most experienced law enforcement officials.
That’s why San Francisco is fortunate to have a person with almost — unequaled credentials leading The City down the road to “realignment,” the state’s plan for counties to jail tens of thousands of perceived low-risk inmates who would have previously been sent to state prison.
George Gascón seemed an unlikely candidate to head the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, having come over as an interim appointment in January following 18 months as The City’s effective and popular police chief.
Yet Gascón has not only made a seamless transition to the office, he’s noticeably improved it, which is why he’s our clear choice for district attorney.
Gascón, a career police officer who led two city police departments before taking his law degree to the chief criminal prosecutor’s job in San Francisco, is uniquely qualified to win his first full term in November.
After taking over for Kamala Harris, Gascón quickly reorganized the staff, keeping some key people in critical roles and then instituting several needed reforms, including the creation of a neighborhood court system to remove low-key cases that were clogging the criminal court docket at the Hall of Justice.
Gascón began working on a plan for realignment almost immediately, coming up with a proposal for a new sentencing commission that will assess how to deal with a new population of felons to the county, and also how his office should charge crimes in the future. He has put his resources into focusing on violent crime.
That kind of forward-thinking agenda, and his depth of experience in making tough personnel and policy decisions, are what made Gascón able to bring reforms to the District Attorney’s Office. He has managed large but disparate police departments, the kind of background that will serve him well in his next role.
There are several other credible candidates for district attorney, but none of them have the skills in managing the issues facing the office’s next leader. Bill Fazio is an experienced trial attorney who has tried unsuccessfully to win three previous DA elections. David Onek has shown himself to be strong on policy issues, but comes up short on experience. Sharmin Bock is a career prosecutor in Alameda County who lacks the refinement to lead a politically charged office.
Gascón’s opponents in the race have tried to make his nuanced stance on the death penalty issue a key component of the campaign. But the death penalty has not been used in California in years, and there appears to be strong voter support for throwing it out.
Gascón understands that there is a host of more important issues facing the next district attorney, and he alone has the background in handling the relocation of resources and the rethinking needed for the coming wave of ex-prison inmates.
To his credit, Gascón has risen above the fray in the personal attacks that have been the mainstay of the other campaigns. In all of his roles Gascón has maintained a cool and steady hand. And he has proven that you don’t need a career prosecutor to be a smart decision-maker at the highest levels.