George Gascon will replace Kamala Harris as San Franciscos district attorney. (Jeff Chiu, Associated Press )
San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon was appointed city district attorney Sunday and will serve the remaining term of former Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, now California's attorney general.
Gascon, a former high-ranking official in the Los Angeles Police Department, is the first Latino to be named San Francisco's head prosecutor.
"I'm very honored for the opportunity to serve the people of San Francisco in this new role and look forward to continuing to work together with our community and the other partners in the criminal justice system to make San Francisco the safest large city in the U.S.," Gascon, 56, said in an e-mail.
In an interview, Mayor Gavin Newsom said that after consulting with judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials, he concluded that Gascon was best equipped to continue reforms advanced by Harris and to forge a closer relationship between prosecutors, police and community leaders.
Gascon has been thrust into controversies over the city's immigration stance and the integrity of the city's crime lab. He has presided over some of the lowest crime rates in decades, Newsom said.
"He has personal integrity and a remarkable capacity to advance reform and build trust in and navigate our diverse community," Newsom said. "He has proven himself adept at adapting to political realities, and he's done it in a way that he's built even more support in the process."
Gascon will serve out the remaining year of Harris' term and is expected to seek a full four-year term as district attorney in November.
Newsom named him San Francisco chief in 2009, after he served three years as chief of the department in Mesa, Ariz., where illegal immigration and police enforcement of immigration laws are hot issues.
In going from Arizona to San Francisco, Gascon left an area with conservative views on immigration for a city characterized as being among the most liberal. He has touted his expertise on the role of local police and illegal immigration.
In a 2008 Los Angeles Times article, Gascon cited academic studies that found that immigrants commit proportionally fewer crimes than native-born Americans. In the same article, he described himself as a longtime Republican.
He also has broad experience on issues of police accountability, use of force and community policing. He developed a reputation in Los Angeles for using technology to combat crime.
When he was an assistant chief in Los Angeles, Gascon was a key advisor to former Chief William J. Bratton and was chosen to the lead LAPD's Office of Operations. He was instrumental in developing a scientifically based crime-fighting strategy that is credited with reducing violent crime in the city.
Gascon is a native of Cuba who fled Fidel Castro's regime with his parents. He joined the LAPD in 1978, then before leaving to pursue a career in business management while also serving as a reserve officer. He rejoined the force full-time in 1987 and quickly moved up the ranks.
He earned a bachelor's degree in history at Cal State Long Beach and a law degree at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton.
Gascon's appointment was one of Newsom's last official acts of Newsom as mayor; he is set to be sworn in Monday as the state's lieutenant governor.
Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.