SFPD Chief George GascÃ³n’s been in the news a lot this week, making waves in the city budget, drug dealing crime, and the touchy subject of police suicides.
First, Chief GascÃ³n’s last minute requests for enhancements to the new police headquarters have caused the projected cost to go $3.5 million over budget. The cost for the voter approved, $243 million building, was tabulated a month before GascÃ³n took over the Department in July 2009.
GascÃ³n’s concerns include strengthening the building structure against bomb detonation, bullet proofing the building facade, shielding the air system from harmful airborne agents, extra parking, widened sidewalks, “anti-ram” curbs, and enhanced “visual screening”.
In the Tenderloin, a pilot program has been set up to deter the illegal pill dealers that operate at the corner of Turk and Leavenworth. While cops say they are making progress, they also admit that they’ve caused the dealers to just move their businesses to surrounding blocks. But Chief GascÃ³n also appears frustrated, likening the fight against SF’s street dealers to “paddling against the current.”
But paddle they shall: heightened presence, bi-weekly nighttime stings, undercover cops, tracking and stiffening consequences for repeat offenders, and an intervention program are all part of the plan to deter illegal pharmaceutical sales, says the SFPD.
Lastly, the Ex reports on a problem within the police community that rarely gets attention – the frequency of officer suicides. Three San Francisco officers have committed suicide this year, leading the police union president, Gary Delagnes, to call for discussion on dealing with the stresses of being an officer. Chief GascÃ³n, on the other hand, has dismayed some people by keeping silent and not attending funerals of officers who have taken their own lives. According to the department spokesperson, Lt. Lyn Tomioka, this is because Chief GascÃ³n “primarily attends funerals for officers that are killed or die in the line of duty.”
According to the chairman of Badge of Life, a foundation that focuses on the issue of police suicides, it is commonplace for many departments to abandon an officer and their family after a suicide. “Every chief and public relations officer will stand in front of the press and talk about how terribly stressful police work is. But when a suicide happens, this is all forgotten” says the organization. “Instead, (suicides) are blamed on the weakness of the officer, the officer’s personal problems, or the spouse.”
143 officers in the US committed suicide in 2009, according to the Ex. Compare that to the 128 killed in the line of duty last year and it is clear that suicide is a more likely cause of death in the force. Jeff Shannon, a therapist and former Berkeley police officer says that the tendency for police to ignore the problem is part of the “suck-it-up and drive-it-on culture.”
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