San Francisco police Chief George Gascon today began the first in an ongoing series of public meetings with police captains, intended to improve efficiency and communication within the department as part of his overall crime reduction strategy, known as CompStat.

Today’s meeting at the Cathedral Hill Hotel, attended by dozens of department officials and to which media were also invited, provided a rare look into how the department functions internally, as Gascon and his staff peppered the captains with questions about crime trends in their district and how they might best address them.

“Don’t try to BS me,” Gascon told the five captains making presentations today. Captains representing the five other police districts in San Francisco will be the focus of the next meeting.

“No one will be looked down upon for not having an answer here,” Gascon said.

Gascon acknowledged that crime statistics fluctuate, with rises in crime in certain areas despite the best efforts by police.

“What concerns me is if you don’t recognize that crime is going up,” he said. He added that their focus should be “what are you doing and what is your understanding of the process.”

“I think you are going to be amazed at the progress that we are going to make,” Gascon said.

CompStat, a crime pattern tracking system implemented in Los Angeles where Gascon was an assistant police chief and then in Mesa, Ariz., where he was chief, is designed to more easily track crime in neighborhoods and identify specific problem areas, and to compel accountability from district captains.

Implementation in San Francisco is ongoing, and Gascon said today that technology upgrades will take time, about six months for an interim “automated process on crime reports” and about two years to attain a fully automated records management system, he estimated. In addition, the public will eventually be able to view crime statistics online.

He said the Police Department’s current computer systems “are very antiquated,” capturing some but not all the crime data.

Though some crimes, including homicides, in San Francisco are down this year, “We don’t have enough of a comfort level with the numbers today,” Gascon said.

Gascon will hold public meetings with the captains every two weeks.

“This is what these meetings are designed to do, to bring out the information sharing,” Gascon said.

“This is a huge learning process for everybody, and that’s what it’s meant to be,” he said.

Los Angeles police Detective Jeff Godown, who was in charge of Compstat there, is now implementing the system in San Francisco and led today’s meeting. Gascon said he plans to hire him as a commander.

CompStat is not a computer system, Godown told reporters, “It’s a management accountability process.”

Godown insisted that San Francisco police are hard working and capable.

“They just need a process to measure the successes, or lack thereof,” he said.

“They’re going to have to get used to what transparency means,” Godown added.

Gascon said his staff is adjusting to his demand for accountability.

“I think it’s being received very well,” he said.

“And this is just the very beginning,” he added. “The questions are going to get tougher, as we expect more out of people.”

Rather than “intimidating” his staff, Gascon said, “it’s about learning, discussing, coming up with solutions and problem solving.”

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  • LibertyHiller

    There was a season of The Wire where it seemed like the only thing police leadership did was to sit in CompStat meetings or spend their time preparing for CompStat meetings.

    It will be entertaining to watch the captains try to reduce random behavior to statistical models. It will not, however, be terribly effective.

    PS: When I wrote “preparing” I meant “goosing the numbers.”