Police Chief Suhr takes over as layoffs loom, FBI investigates San Francisco officers 

For San Francisco native Greg Suhr, rising in the ranks to become chief of police seemed like only a dream. Now that the dream has come true, he’ll be facing a nightmare of budget cuts, contract negotiations and scandals that threaten to rock the department.

Dressed in full uniform and sometimes choking on his words, the 30-year veteran of the SFPD was sworn in by Mayor Ed Lee on Wednesday as chief of police. The City’s power brokers and political elite all jockeyed to congratulate the new top cop, appointed by an interim mayor who took more than a month to make a decision.

“All of you know, while I am an interim mayor I do not make interim decisions,” Lee told the crowd. “This will be reform from the inside out.”

Suhr now faces the unenviable task of keeping crime down with a department that is already 110 officers below the charter-mandated staffing level of 1,971. The Police Department also faces the threat of 171 layoffs as the Mayor’s Office crafts a budget that will close a citywide deficit of
$306 million.

Many say Lee picked Suhr, the choice of the police union, to convince the rank-and-file to forego $14.5 million in scheduled pay raises. One of Lee’s confidants, Chinatown power broker Rose Pak, put it bluntly.

“Of the three candidates, there was no choice,” Pak said. “The public made it clear they wanted Greg Suhr. When The City is asking for [salary] givebacks, it makes a lot of sense.”

Suhr comes on as an FBI investigation into alleged warrantless searches threatens to tarnish the department’s already-fragile image. While he told The San Francisco Examiner he feels The City’s courts are “imbalanced” when it comes to dismissing evidence, he would never support a cop who committed perjury.

“There is no place in the San Francisco Police Department — and [there] shouldn’t be a place in any police department — for a dishonest cop,” Suhr said.

The image that he is part of a “good-old-boy’s network” is one of Suhr’s biggest criticisms. Supervisor David Campos, a former police commissioner, said that will be a challenge moving forward.

“I think it’s a concern for everyone,” Campos said. “He has to show that he can shed that image.”

In the coming weeks, Suhr must decide who he will name to replace him as captain in the Bayview, along with name his command staff, which is currently comprised of people appointed by his predecessor. Suhr didn’t have any announcements to make Wednesday, but he said he hopes to make those staffing decisions “as soon as possible.”

But Suhr said his biggest challenge might be over: He survived the months-long application process, not to mention his emotional acceptance speech.

“I’m not somebody who’s really good at celebrating himself,” Suhr said. “I’d love to get to the point where it’s not all about me. It’s about the work.”


Greg Suhr’s background

Age: 52
Born: Mission district
Resides: Golden Gate Heights
Education: St. Ignatius, University of San Francisco
Family: Divorced, two sons
Years with SFPD: 30

Challenges for the new chief

The new top cop faces a bevy of issues as he inherits a department during a difficult budget year and with at least two scandals still affecting day-to-day operations.

- SFPD budget slashed last year; 10-20 percent cuts asked for this year
- Officers being asked to sacrifice $14.5 million in pay raises
- Academy classes on chopping block for next year
- Ongoing negotiations with union to reduce pension benefits

Crime and safety
- Overall serious crime is up 3 percent from 2010
- 5 percent increase in property crime this year
- 20 homicides this year, limited arrests
- Upsurge in Mission gang violence in February and March

Scandal and politics
- Current local and federal investigation into officer perjury in drug cases
- Ongoing cases involving drugs that had been tested at crime lab facing scrutiny in court
- Building a command staff that is loyal and effective
- Choosing a replacement for the Bayview Station
- Establishing a strong relation with the District Attorney’s Office


In his words

“I think that whenever you have brushes with adversity, it’s how you come out of it.  … Sometimes it works out, and this is going to be one of those times.”
Greg Suhr on his various reassignments, demotion and conflicts with former Police Chief Heather Fong

“It’s my first day. I’m not worried about how it ends.”
— on serving under an interim mayor and the prospect of being replaced once a new mayor comes in

“I think you can make up for a certain number of officers through efficiencies. And I think that you have to police smarter, make better use of technology, figure out better ways to keep officers in the field.”
— on the prospect of losing hundreds of officers to retirement

“There is no place in the San Francisco Police Department for a dishonest cop.”
— on how he would deal with cops who commit perjury

“To be honest with you, getting through all of this [the appointment process].”
— on his biggest challenge

“I am a bit of a cryer.”
— on getting choked up during the speech

About The Author

Brent Begin

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