Saturday, January 31, 2009

Now Is, and Isn’t, the Time to Commit Murder in San Francisco

Photo: San Francisco in better times, the 1906 earthquake

If you are looking to get away with murder, make sure you do it in San Francisco.

But if you don’t get away with it and are too poor to afford a defense attorney of your own, watch out.

San Francisco homicide detectives are so busy, four of the 20 SFPD homicide officers are already near or at the maximum number of overtime hours they can claim for the fiscal year ending June 30. Because of injury or other long-term assignments, right now there are 13 investigators able to take on new cases.

Yes, the SF budget is stretched thin (like everywhere), and last year the notorious Board of Supervisors (hereafter referred to the “Board of Stupes”) made the decision to strictly limit overtime for city employees to 624 hours a year. That is not a typo. Six hundred twenty-four hours of overtime a year. The law was enacted to stop an abuse of overtime hours by city employees.

I am not even going to ask why not hire more police officers and promote more officers to detective/investigator.

Unfortunately the Board of Stupes forgot that some jobs are more important than others. One of those important jobs is responding to a homicide, which for some unreasonable reason, seem to happen more on the night shift. Officers take call and respond to a scene if needed.

The four officers have been instructed not to take any new cases, to not respond to calls if it means overtime, and to work on cases during normal business hours only.

Certainly the Police Officers Association gets it. "Those morons on the Board of Supervisors don't get it," said Gary Delagnes. "You don't put on a time restriction when you are investigating the ultimate crime. It is city government run amok.

"That's what I tried to tell those geniuses on the board—you can't treat a homicide cop like some maintenance guy who's worked too many hours. I told them, those homicide guys will burn through that overtime level by Christmas."

An example of a hamstringed investigation is the murder of 23-year old Jordan McKay, who was shot and killed last September while he rode his bike home at 1:40 a.m., headed toward his apartment in the Richmond District. His family and friends are grateful for the sensitivity shown by the detectives working to find McKay’s killer, but they are also facing the reality that those detectives are crippled in their efforts to keep the case from turning into a cold case.

Delganes says that detectives work in pairs and that each pair can be carrying as few as eight cases or as many as 12.

Inspectors whose overtime has been capped write questions for other detectives to use when interrogating or conducting interviews, while they are, of course, on overtime.

Inspector Valerie Matthews, one of the homicide detectives who has reached the overtime cap, has had to tell victim’s families that she can work on their loved one’s case during regular business hours only. She has her own stalled investigation, the killing of Jason de la Cruz and a friend last year in front of a Sunset District pizzeria. Officers were able to make an arrest, but because of conflicting witness statements, had to let the suspect go. Matthews and her partner are unable to work more leads in the case.

That is the good news for SF’s many thugs and gangstas, especially those who work at night. But there is also bad news—according to one source, the SF Public Defender’s office is very strapped and because of the Board of Stupes’ unwillingness to hire two paralegals to help with the backlog.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said that his office would not be able to take on any more cases, including as many as seven homicide cases already on the books. One of these cases is that of Edwin Ramos, the admitted MS-13 gang member former juvenile offender illegal alien who gunned down three members of the Bologna family last summer in what has been described as a case of mistaken identity.

The city of San Francisco will be forced to hire private attorneys to provide free counsel for those suspects unable to pay for their own lawyers. No doubt that will cost a whole bunch more than paying a pair of paralegals.

Overtime cap crimps some S.F. homicide probes

Overtime limits: kiss of death to solving murders

City Denies Public Defenders Request to Hire More Staff