The unveiling of San Francisco’s next police chief, veteran Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief William Scott, was a occasion of celebration at City Hall on Tuesday.
A beaming Mayor Ed Lee announced to reporters who will lead the troubled department, and flanking the mayor were The City’s law enforcement leaders, from the department’s command staff to the district attorney and sheriff. The fire chief even showed up.
But the major absence in the room was the leader of the Police Officers Association.
Martin Halloran, the union’s president, offered a tepid statement about the selection of Scott that noted the union’s top choice for the role, Acting Chief Toney Chaplin, wasn’t picked — as had been the case when the mayor named union-favorite Greg Suhr police chief in 2011.
Chaplin was appointed acting chief in May after Suhr resigned.
The union, however, sent an entirely different message just hours later to its roughly 2,300 members. That message, while offering a fig leaf to the new chief, did not mince words when it came to Lee’s choice of an outsider.
“It was no secret that the POA fully supported Chief Toney Chaplin to be named as our permanent chief. We believe that this is what the rank and file wanted,” reads Halloran’s statement. “The mayor saw it differently. We wish that we could say the mayor did the decent thing and introduced us to the new chief ahead of time. But he did not.”
Halloran said the mayor should have included the union in the selection process.
“But he picked the new chief in secret, behind closed doors, and by so doing he turned his back on the rank and file,” Halloran wrote.
In an email to the San Francisco Examiner, mayoral spokesperson Deirdre Hussey responded to Halloran’s claims.
“The Mayor reached out to the POA, as well as many community members, as he was making his decision,” she said. “The POA has expressed support of incoming Chief Scott and the Mayor is confident that they will work together as they serve the city and its residents.”
It remains to be seen how Scott will deal with the POA, which has stuck to its guns in the past several years over longtime policing practices despite a national movement toward reform. At least one recent review of the department went so far as to lay much of the department’s dysfunction on a culture promoted by the union.
The Police Department in recent years has been plagued by misconduct scandals, from a series of fatal police shootings to several racist text message revelations — all of which sparked a visceral public reaction that reached its peak after the killing of Mario Woods on Dec. 2, 2015.
The soon-to-be chief was circumspect on his future relationship with the union, only saying at Tuesday’s news conference that he gets what he deserves.
Still, Scott said he backs the Police Commission’s new use-of-force policy, which has been strongly opposed by the POA since it was passed in June. The union even paid for a television advertisement depicting a crazed man crashing into a crowd as police officers stood by watching — an allusion of how the new policy may look in real life.
The commission was scheduled to vote Wednesday night on whether to push ahead with the policy package.
Whatever the decision, it may well be the first hard fight Scott has to tackle and could shape his relationship with the union.
Recently retired Capt. Al Casciato said he, too, supported Chaplin and isn’t surprised at the union’s reaction.
“I’m sure they’re very disappointed because you’re dealing with an unknown factor,” Casciato said. “The other thing you’re dealing with is a series of successions, where we have outside chiefs, and they don’t last very long.”
But former ACLU lawyer John Crew said the union and its members had ample opportunity to opine on the chief pick, and any claim otherwise is false.
“This is outrageous. They are trying to undermine the new chief in the eyes of the officers — as the product of the mayor ‘turning his back’ on them and ‘deliberate exclusion’ of the SFPOA — less than three hours after he’s introduced,” Crew wrote in an email to the Examiner. “They truly have no shame. Their arrogance and sense of entitlement is overwhelming.”
Lee’s choice of an outsider to lead the department through reforms was described by one former captain as a repudiation of the Suhr years and the department’s good ol’ boys.
“Suhr played the game of inclusion to name cronies and others with high school diplomas to his command staff, and ultimately, none of his command staff that were still here could compete with the highly educated and more experienced outside candidates,” said Chico State University Chief John Feeney, a former captain with the SFPD.
“Sadly, it was more important for Suhr to take care of his friends, destroy everything and everyone [District Attorney George] Gascon had anything to do with, and fail to develop legitimate leadership for the future of our beloved SFPD,” Feeney continued. “In the end, because of Suhr’s hubris and with the blind support of his actions by the Police Commission, the SFPD ends up with an outsider as chief and ironically, one from the LAPD.”