Another top San Francisco official under fire

joanne.hayes-whiteIt’s not just San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr facing sharp criticism. Now another top city official is under fire: Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, who is accused of being unresponsive to public concerns, indifferent to complaints from the rank-and-file and borderline incompetent in improving long-standing problems within the San Francisco Fire Department.

Hayes-White’s defenders depict the criticism as being ginned up by the fire union to gain advantage in ongoing debates about pay, staffing and hiring. But KQED’s reporting suggests that there is more in play than just political jousting.

Over the last 16 months the department has come under criticism for doing a weak job of documenting fire safety violations in the city’s older apartment buildings after a series of deadly fires. It has also come under scrutiny for moving too slowly to reduce a backlog of hundreds of fire investigations going back several years.

Fire chief for 12 years as problems built

Hayes-White, who was appointed fire chief in 2004 and by some accounts is the longest-serving fire chief of a large city in the U.S., can’t say she inherited her department’s problems. A San Francisco native, she joined the department in 1990 after graduating from the University of Santa Clara and quickly moved up the ranks, being promoted to lieutenant in 1993, captain in 1996 and then acting battalion chief that same year.

During her 26 years with SFPD, the quality of department management has been increasingly questioned.

Last June, a civil grand jury report found, among other things, the Fire Department’s emergency medical response times fail to meet state standards, in part because of “a chronic lack of serviceable ambulances.” The grand jury also found that half the department’s ambulance fleet exceeded its expected service life of 10 years and that the agency lacks a strategic plan for replacing ambulances and other emergency equipment. …

One high-profile example of the equipment problems: the failure of the department’s “jaws of life” devices after last November’s tour bus crash in Union Square.

The complex tools, used to cut open vehicles in which victims are trapped, were unable to cut through the high-grade steel of vehicles involved in the accident.

That’s also from KQED.

Mayor and police chief also have many critics

Meanwhile, Mayor Lee appears to be the ultimate target of an influence-peddling corruption investigation by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon that is apparently piggybacking on information from the far-reaching FBI probe that led to the corruption convictions of former state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and legendary Chinatown gang figure Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, among others. In January, Gascon arrested two former employees of the city’s Human Rights Commission and alleged they had tried to sell access to Lee to an undercover agent.

Police Chief Suhr faces multiple problems. On Feb. 1, the Justice Department launched a probe into his department after complaints from the ACLU and African-American groups over police violence. In December, cellphone videos caught officers shooting to death Mario Woods, a 26-year-old crime suspect, as he walked away from them toward an open area. The contention that Woods was an immediate threat to public safety has drawn broad ridicule.

Suhr has faced criticism from both sides: from officers who say he doesn’t stick up for them in an era in which police feel under siege and from activists who say he has condoned bad behavior for years.

Suhr is also caught in the middle in a scandal that began a year ago over text messages showing officers using racist and racially charged language. Activists wants the 14 officers involved to be fired. Suhr’s most prominent response has been to ask his officers to make a seven-point pledge not to be racist and intolerant.

But a fresh round of racist texts from another group of officers emerged late last month, prompting national coverage of the disarray within Suhr’s department. Gascon, the DA, told The New York Times that he had profound questions about the SFPD’s internal culture, given that “officers involved in the new case were sending offensive texts even as the city investigated 14 of their colleagues last year for sending and receiving similar messages.”


Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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