Police chief's leadership criticized

December 21, 2008 7:33:27 PM PST
Chief Fong's impending retirement has long been a guessing game at the Hall of Justice and at City Hall.

The question was not if she would retire, but when she would retire.

The timing of Fong's announcement was a surprise to many but the way she announced it was not.

She did it in her typical low-key style, on a weekend, on the mayor's radio show, which is not a widely-listened to program. There were also no press releases issued at all.

Several of Fong's top officers told ABC7 Fong did not even call them until after she appeared on the radio.

Heather Fong was sworn in as the city's first female chief nearly five years ago.

"I'm not somebody to say just forget about it. Let somebody else worry about it. It's my responsibility," she said during a March 2006 interview with ABC7.

It is that conviction which Fong's admirers say makes her a good administrator. Even her critics praise Fong for her hard work and integrity.

But, they also say she micromanages the department, often burying herself in minute details that should be delegated.

During the past few years, Fong has worked tirelessly to put in place recommendations of consultants hired by the city to improve the department.

"The priority here is to not only look at what's in front of us today. It's trying to do some long-range planning, some succession planning," she said in 2006.

But, the most consistent criticism is that Fong has failed to display strong leadership, that she is uncomfortable in public even among her rank and file.

As an example, during a ceremony two years ago for a fallen officer, those attending were disappointed that Fong never spoke during the event.

And, four years ago, when the Police Officers Association held a news conference demanding the death penalty for the killer of Officer Issac Espinosa, Fong stood in the back without saying a word.

"We need a chief that's going to speak up and that's going to support us, and we're just not seeing it," said Inspector Lee Militello in November 2006.

Militello is active in PRIDE, a group that represents gay and lesbian cops. She has long been a vocal critic of Fong.

"I go places all throughout this department and it's the single-running theme. Morale really frankly can't get any worse," she said in 2006.

Gary Delagnes, president of the powerful Police Officers Association, has also often criticized Fong's leadership style.

In an interview with ABC7 two years ago, Fong responded saying, "I think it's always difficult because you can't please everybody at the same time. But, the bottom line is I have to do what I believe is best for the department."

Fong appears to have prepared for her departure long in advance.

In January, she brought in a new command staff. The report for overhauling the police department was completed months ago. Now, it goes to city officials for approval.

So, Chief Fong announces her retirement as the number of murders in the City reaches 100.

Fong did not return calls from ABC7 so it is unknown if she was pushed out by Mayor Newsom, who has publically supported her, or if she felt it was just time to go.


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