sfpd_cityhall.jpgThe San Francisco Police Commission will begin formal public discussions next week on the selection of a new police chief and take up the controversial issue of Tasers next month, the commission decided Wednesday night.

Former police Chief George Gascon resigned on Sunday to take the position of district attorney. His second-in-command, Jeff Godown, is now acting police chief.

“We’re hoping to move as expeditiously as possible,” commission President Thomas Mazzucco said before tonight’s meeting.

Under the city charter, the seven-member commission, made up of appointees from the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, is tasked with selecting up to three nominees for police chief to submit to the mayor, who will then appoint the chief.

Next Wednesday’s commission meeting to “put out the formal job notice” will include a discussion of the process of searching for a replacement chief and public comment, Mazzucco said. An appointment is not expected that day.

Mazzucco said he did not foresee a selection process as lengthy as the one that preceded Gascon’s appointment in 2009. At the time, the commission took several months to solicit input from community and faith-based leaders, as well as officers in every police district, he said.

Mazzucco said he and commissioners Jim Hammer and James Slaughter met with new Mayor Ed Lee today to discuss the issue.

“We assured him that it will be a very thoughtful process and that we will consider every applicant,” he said.

The police chief serves at the mayor’s discretion, and Lee is expected to return to his former job as city administrator after the next mayoral election in November. Whoever is chosen could therefore have a brief tenure as chief.

Mazzucco speculated that most of the applicants would be internal candidates from the San Francisco Police Department, and not outside hires who could be risking their current jobs for only a short stint in San Francisco.

“I think, probably, logically, we’ll not see much interest from the outside,” Mazzucco said.
Personally, Mazzucco said, he is looking for a candidate that is professional, innovative, transparent and “someone who’s a leader.”

In a thinly veiled criticism of Gascon, Commissioner Angela Chan said after the meeting that she would like to see “a chief who is amenable to working with a civilian oversight body, and understands that that’s an integral part of how the San Francisco Police Department operates.”

Chan also hoped for “an open, transparent process where we get public comment and listen to the community.”

“And it cannot be like the last two appointments. It can’t be like that,” Chan said.

She said she was referring to the selections of Gascon and Lee, which she said was perceived by some as having been made through behind-the-scenes deals.

During the meeting, Mazzucco called Gascon “a true law enforcement professional.”

Another contentious issue is the desire by Gascon, and Godown, to introduce Tasers as “an additional tool” in the Police Department’s arsenal. Some have criticized the weapons as dangerous and unnecessary.

The commission rejected Gascon’s attempt to secure Tasers last year, but this year, the new makeup of the commission seems to favor adding them.

The commission will hold what is expected to be a lengthy and heated debate on Tasers at its Feb. 9 meeting. A vote on whether to approve them on that day is possible.

Some on the commission, including Chan and Commissioner Petra De Jesus, argued tonight that a delay might be necessary in order to fully incorporate an additional debate on training for police on dealing with mentally ill subjects.

Gascon has said that in some recent officer-involved shootings of subjects with mental health histories, Tasers could have prevented serious injuries or deaths.

Several members of the public speaking before the commission tonight argued that what was really needed was more training for police officers on how to deal safely with the mentally ill.

Police Assistant Chief Denise Schmitt told the commission that federal funding for such training had recently been dropped. She said that training had been a priority for Gascon.

Schmitt is expected to brief the commission next week on how many officers have already received training, and how much.

Ari Burack, Bay City News

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