Sometimes at night as William “Bill” Scott walked down the hall of Los Angeles Police Department’s Southern Bureau, which he led for the past four years, he’d stop at the line of pictures of the former deputy chiefs who had commanded the huge swath of southern Los Angeles with much of the city’s worst crime.
At times, it seemed to Scott — who was named San Francisco’s next police chief Tuesday — as if “those eyes are following me.”
“I think that’s symbolic of what the people that came before are telling me: We’re watching you, Scott. Do a good job. Do good work. Do what you’re supposed to do,” he told an audience at his swearing in to that post in 2012.
Tradition, deference to leadership, but also attention to the community were on display at the ceremony, which took place inside the African American Museum before a mostly black crowd.
Such were some of the reasons Mayor Ed Lee gave for choosing Scott among a list of more than 60 other candidates, including Acting Chief Toney Chaplin as well as a number of others inside the department.
“Bill knows first-hand what it takes to not only implement a series of reforms but also the effort it takes to transform a department, rebuild trust and create a transparent and accountable department,” said Lee.
Los Angeles Police Department’s second in command, First Assistant Chief Michel Moore, said Scott’s absence will leave a vacuum.
“We’re gonna miss him,” said Moore. “We’d welcome him back.”
Lee’s choice in picking Scott was regarded by many Tuesday as a beacon of change for the embattled department, which has been plagued by recent scandals including accounts of racist text messages and fatal police shootings.
The choice of an outsider from the Los Angeles Police Department — the second such outsider pick in recent years, but only The City’s second black chief after Earl Sanders — was a surprise to insiders who expected one of their own. But it was seen as a positive for reform-minded officers and advisers, and a step away from a continuation of the era of former Chief Greg Suhr, who resigned in May and was temporarily succeeded by Chaplin.
At the honeymoon stage of his appointment, Scott appears to be everything to everyone: a veteran cop who has worked the streets, but who also has high-level administrative experience and real community relations chops as head of one of Los Angeles most violent district for the past four years.
THE MAYOR’S PICK
Raised in Alabama after his military family settled there, Scott studied accounting at the University of Alabama and began working as a cop in Los Angeles in 1989 on the eve of the riots following the Rodney King beating. He later rose in the ranks, working in narcotics, gangs, and administration among other duties.
Scott, who is married and has three children, two of whom came to City Hall on Tuesday along with his wife, said in his brief remarks that he’s always wanted to live in San Francisco. Monday was his marriage anniversary and the day he accepted the job.
Scott’s chief task will be to complete the package of reforms the department is in the middle of pushing through following a critical review by the U.S. Department of Justice, which came on the heels of another inquiry led by the District Attorney’s Office.
“Change is difficult for all of us,” said Scott, referring to the reform package.
The first reform on his long list will be the Use of Force policy, which was passed in June but has not been fully implemented yet because of broken down negotiations with the Police Officers Association. Scott said he plans to sit down with the union and hopes an agreement can be reached on the policy.
The choice of Scott came as a surprise to some after it was rumored for much of the search process that Chaplin was the favorite. Lee even said Tuesday his first inclination was to pick from within the department.
“My optimism is invigorated,” said Deputy Chief Mikail Ali, the only black officer in the command staff besides Chaplin, and one of the insiders who applied for the job.
Oscar Salinas, with the Justice for Alex Nieto group, said he was expecting an internal candidate, so the choice has also left him optimistic.
But recently retired Capt. Al Casciato said the choice came as a surprise to him.
“I am surprised that Chaplin wasn’t picked. The question for the mayor is, ‘Tell me why you picked him?’” said Casciato, who added that most chiefs last as long as the tenure of the mayor that picked them, and Lee only has three more years in office.
The POA, which was not present at the announcement, sent a brief statement supporting the pick.
“We anticipate that he will tap into the tremendous talent of the men and women who make up the SFPD,” the POA said in a statement. “The POA hopes to work closely with him as chief and we are committed to helping him move the department forward here in San Francisco.”
The new chief’s relationship with the POA may be crucial to his success, said District Attorney George Gascon, also a former San Francisco police chief who has been at odds with the union.
“If the union gives him an opportunity, he will work well,” said Gascon.
When LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told an audience in 2012 why he chose Scott as a deputy chief, he said it was not only because of his “intellectual intelligence,” courage and ability to act, but also his emotional intelligence.
“The ability to lead while seeing things through other eyes,” was a quality highlighted by Beck about Scott.
That helped Scott run a bureau with almost as many cops as the SFPD.
Police critic and journalist Jasmyne Cannick said the Scott was one of the shining lights of the LAPD who “governed with a heart in South LA.”
Scott didn’t simply talk about community relations, he implemented them, said Cannick. It wasn’t unusual to see Scott at community meetings and at churches, she said.
“It is Los Angeles’s loss and San Francisco’s gain,” said the Rev. Shane Scott of the Macedonia Baptist Church of Los Angeles. “I just think that Bill Scott is a stellar fella and we need more police chiefs like him across the country.”
For the reverend, that also meant Scott was always ready to put down his badge and gun and listen to what people in the area had to say, and find out what they needed.
“It was a [police] division that did not give a damn about black people, and it was Bill Scott that walked in and turned that division around,” said Scott.