The creative landscape is changing. Technologies like Pro Tools, the iPod, and peer-to-peer networks have become mainstream in the digital age, creating a wild frontier of sorts in music. Independent artists can reach mass audiences once forbidden to them. These technologies are fostering the rise of “semiotic democracy”—where more and more people are no longer passive consumers of mass media, but active participants in creating culture. Cops vs Lawyers, Issue 3

الأحد، تشرين الأول ١٠، ٢٠٠٤

Cops vs Lawyers: SF Police Officers Association Pres. Gary Delagnes

Image by Granger Davis

By Mike Conway

On April 10, 2004, police officer Isaac Espinoza was killed in the line of duty in San Francisco. When a suspect was brought to court, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris refused on principle to pursue the death penalty. Police officers across the country were outraged, and no cop was more vocally opposed to her decision than Inspector Gary Delagnes, president of San Francisco’s Police Officers Association. Inspector Delagnes joined the police force in 1978, & was a narcotics officer for over 12 years.

SHOUT: Inspector Delagnes, explain your position on prosecuting the murder of Officer Espinoza.
INSPECTOR DELAGNES: 'It is our belief that when you kill a cop, it’s the same as killing a politician or anyone that represents the community and works to keep that community safer. We feel when someone like that is murdered, it goes beyond a normal crime. Especially due to the fact that we’re dealing with more and more dangerous criminals that all seem to have assault weapons. A message needed to be sent that if you kill a cop, you face the ultimate penalty.
'We understand that Kamala Harris is against the death penalty, but we felt this was so extraordinary that she needed to reverse herself. We’re moving on, though. At one point we tried to get the Attorney General on the case, that didn’t happen. The DA is going to proceed, she did not take the death penalty and we just got to live with that, and we also understand that we have to live in concert with the DA and we have to work together on a lot of different issues and we have to get to work. We can’t exist as enemies.'

How is Kamala Harris different from former DA Terrence Hallinan?
'I would characterize the Hallinan tenure as a bad joke. He obviously didn’t understand–in my opinion—the role of the DA, what a DA does. No matter how liberal you are, no matter if you’ve been a defense attorney your whole life, once you become a DA, your job is to prosecute criminals. I don’t think he ever grapsed that.
'I worked narcotics before I took this job, and here’s the point the cops are trying to make: if you don’t want to prosecute quality-of-life crimes, then you get what you pay for. You have street dealing of heroin, crack, meth-amphetamines, or for that matter marijuana going on up and down Market (mostly by people from the East Bay). So when the tourist from Iowa, Arkansas, or Texas comes to San Francisco and sees this and asks “why is it such a mess here?” don’t expect people to come back here for vacation. That’s what we’re hearing more and more—”this city is a mess; we’re not coming back.” So what happens? The economy goes bad, hotel tax and tax revenues go down.
'If you talk to politicians from New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, they made a concerted effort to be aggressive on quality of life crimes. If you want people to visit our city and feel safe, you’d better do something about things like drug sales and aggressive panhandling. That’s not to say we throw offenders away in prison for ten years.'

How will you work with the DA's office going forward?
'Despite what occurred on the death penalty issue, we’ve always maintained that Ms. Harris is a career prosecutor that understands what needs to be done as a prosecutor. Is the philosophy gonna change in regards to quality of life crimes? I don’t know; it’s still early. We’re in a wait-and-see mode, but it’s gonna take time to change an inherent philosophy that’s occurred eight years under Terrance Hallinan.'

Lessons learned about media relations from the Espinoza murder case:
'I don’t give interviews to the Bay Guardian because what are they possibly gonna say that will make my people look good?'

What is your stance on quality-of-life-crimes?
'San Francisco finds itself in these tough situations because they wanna be liberal, they wanna boast about their liberal views politically. So when a situation comes up—that is homelessness, prostitution—they don’t really know what to do.
'If people don’t mind somone walking into the New Century Theater, or Mitchell Brothers, and paying money to sit in a booth, you know what? We don’t care, but then don’t have a vice crimes division. Because the vice division gets complaints, and we’re supposed to go out and investigate those complaints.
'The vice unit would never go into these places unsolicited. The people we get complaints from are usually tourists that go in for a show; they don’t understand what’s going on and the next thing you know, they get propositioned for sex in a booth and they get offended. And before the guy leaves town back to Iowa, he calls the cops and we have to respond.
'I’m in the personal belief that prostitution should be legalized and controlled. I think marijuana should be legalized. If it’s sold in a controlled setting, like sex, these are victimless crimes. If someone wants to go smoke a bunch of doobs, that’s [their] business. If you’re gonna legalize alcohol, I don’t see why you can’t legalize marijuana.'

What’s one thing you’d like the Hip-Hop Community to understand about your organization?
'The community needs to understand that the police department is on their side. We’re not in there to racially profile or abuse people. We’re there to give people the opportunity for a law-abiding, peaceful life. Having said that...
'Police work is a contact sport. If you see a cop in an altercation, it doesn’t mean the cop’s beating the person up. There’s fights, there’s physical contact, there’s people that go down. When that happens, it doesn’t mean the cop is being brutal.
'Our officers are governed by the Office of Citizen Complaints, and when people make complaints about excessive force or any other unwarranted action, they are investigated and reviewed by the OCC. The OCC takes in about 1,000 complaints a year, and they’re only able to sustain 60 of those one thousand. Most sustained complaints involve things like inappropriate language or attitude. Incidents of excessive force against a citizen are extremely, extremely rare. In 15-20 years there’s been no shooting by one of our officers that was deemed unlawful or illegal by the courts or by the OCC. It doesn’t happen.
'Until there’s an understanding in a community that we’re there to help, then what are we doing there?'