When Cops And Prosecutors Aren’t The Best of Friends
November 21, 2016 (Fault Lines) — There is an old Kenyan saying:
When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
The City of San Francisco has of late taken on the roll of grass in the conflict between District Attorney George Gascon and the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association over police reform. Earlier this month SF POA head Martin Halloran and Los Angeles Police Protective League chief Craig Lally wrote a letter to Governor Jerry Brown imploring him not to appoint Gascon to the position of Attorney General.
The letter is short and consists mostly of ad hominem attacks such as:
A reckless and erratic man with bad judgment.
The letter also accused Gascon of having a “toxic relationship with law enforcement” and that appointing him to higher office would endanger public safety. Gascon, for his part, has accused union leadership of impeding reform efforts via a “good old boy” structure and intimidation tactics. He formed a Blue Ribbon Panel to look into the department after a racist texting scandal involving a number of San Francisco cops broke out. That panel, made-up of retired judges, released a report saying among other things:
The SFPD blurs the line between it and the POA, and allows the POA to take on an outsized role inside and outside the department. The POA has historically taken positions resistant to reform and insisted that there is no widespread or inherent bias in the department.
Locally, it doesn’t take a retired judge to see that the POA has tried its best to discredit Gascon, taking out attack ads and accusing him of racist remarks at a dinner in 2010. They even hired a crisis manager to fight back against what they perceive as a declaration of war by Gascon.
It is arguable that justice is better served when the police department and DA’s office are not good buddies. A DA not afraid of the cops or their voting power might certainly be more prone to charging cops with crimes they commit than someone who has too close a relationship with police. Such a DA might not subscribe to the old “why would a cop lie” argument and be a bit more critical of officers’ statements before charging someone with a crime. Forming a panel and taking on the culture and leadership of a large police department is not something to be taken lightly.
It takes guts or recklessness and could result in your being out of a job.
On the other hand, a pitched battle like this isn’t serving the people of San Francisco very well. It’s distracting for cops and prosecutors alike. It would be nice if someone could step in and make them play nice.
Lally and Halloran’s letter certainly has plenty of shameless opportunism and kettle-calling-the-pot-black in it, but underscores a real fear on the part of union leadership. The Attorney General is essentially the state’s top cop and lawyer. If Gascon got the job, he could do serious damage to the union’s resistance to his reforms.
Normally, the Attorney General is elected at the same time as the governor. However, current Attorney General Kamala Harris is leaving the post with two years remaining after she was elected to Congress and the governor has to choose a candidate to fill the spot. The list of potentials has quite a few names and the governor is not talking. It could be anyone.
It’s clear at this point that Halloran and Gascon are sworn enemies. Apparently, Lally doesn’t have any good feelings left over from Gascon’s tenure as police chief in Los Angeles, either. But does the letter to Governor Brown have a Chicken Little feel to it. or do they know something everyone else doesn’t?
Is Gascon on the short list for the job? He’s not on the record saying he was interested. Or was the letter a plant designed to further their agenda without any risk of it backfiring since they can’t really be prosecuted or sued over it. Maybe it was just a cheap shot because they can?
Wouldn’t it be funny if he actually did get the job?