Earlier this year, San Francisco County’s first Hispanic district attorney took office, and the Cuban-born former police chief is looking to make some serious changes.
Regarding his new position, George Gascon said, “To be district attorney for the county and city of San Francisco is a great honor, since it is this unexpected opportunity that will allow me to weigh in on renewing the criminal justice system.” Adding, “In this job you work for the general community, but it’s very important that members of minorities like us, the Hispanics, are represented in positions like this, which have such a big impact on the way our communities are led both socially and economically.”
Gascon, born in 1954, came to the U.S. from Havana in 1967 with his parents, who were looking for a better life. He served in the U.S. Army from 1972 to 1975, and went on to graduate from California State University, Long Beach in 1978, with a degree in history. Then in 1995, he earned a law degree at Western State University.
After beginning his law enforcement career with the L.A. Police Department, he moved up and became the head the LAPD Office of Operations. Then in 2006, Gascon was offered the position of police chief in Mesa, Arizona. In 2009, he became the first Hispanic to hold the position of SFPD’s chief. He was serving in this position until he took the D.A. offer.
When incumbent Kamala Harris was elected California attorney general, she left the D.A. position open.
“Last Jan. 8, as chief of the San Francisco Police Department, I went to tell Mayor Gavin Newsom what characteristics I thought were important for him to consider in the choice of the next district attorney,” said Gascon. “After the conversation, the mayor made me the offer that surprised me - but I told him I had to discuss it with my wife. I gave my answer that same day in the afternoon and was named district attorney the day after.”
Garscon said that his experience in law enforcement gave him the experience he can now put to use as the D.A.
He stated that in the last 15 years, America’s police departments have jailed a larger number of Hispanics and other minorities than whites.
“The justice system in the United States is very expensive in economic terms and very costly in social terms - that’s why I think we have to change it,” he said. “The racial component among those in custody is an indicator that the system isn’t working.”
While he was the Mesa County police chief, Gascon was constantly butting heads with Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio when it came to immigration. Gascon was known for seeking out alliances to improve his officers’ effectiveness, while Arpaio seemed to constantly seek the spotlight and confrontations to further his self-proclaimed status of “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
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