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L.A.'s highest-ranking African American officer to head scandal-plagued SFPD

LAPD Deputy Chief William "Bill" Scott has been selected by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to lead the San Francisco Police Department. Here is some background on Scott. (Dec.20, 2016)

Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief William "Bill" Scott, the department's highest-ranking African American officer, has been appointed as chief of the San Francisco Police Department following recent scandals involving racist texting among Bay Area officers.

Scott, who oversees LAPD’s South Bureau, was selected by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to lead the embattled department.

At a news conference announcing the appointment, Lee noted that Scott had a wealth of experience as a manager in a department that has been undergoing its own reforms during his 27-year career.

"Deputy Chief Scott has seen firsthand not just what it takes to implement a series of reforms, but the efforts it will take to transform a department … to build trust," the mayor said.

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Scott, 52, promised to be a "fair and consistent" leader in his new role.

"Change is difficult for all of us, but I think we can do it," he said.

The Alabama native said he was excited at the prospect of leading the Northern California police department, which includes nearly 2,000 officers. By contrast, the LAPD employs nearly 10,000 officers.

Scott said when he married 29 years ago, he and his wife took a look at places where they wanted to live, and he liked the idea of moving to San Francisco. Instead, the couple landed in Los Angeles. Scott said he accepted his new job in San Francisco on his wedding anniversary.

"I wasn't looking for a job. I was very happy in L.A.," he said, adding that he was enjoying his work with the LAPD when a recruiting firm came calling. "It is funny how God works."

Scott's was one of three names sent by the San Francisco Police Commission to Lee. Scott will replace acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin, a 26-year department veteran who previously led the department's homicide division. The mayor praised Chaplin, saying he had laid the groundwork for the department to be transformed.

The San Francisco police officers' union had actively pushed for Chaplin's appointment but said in a statement Tuesday that the association looked forward to working with Scott.

Scott's hiring comes after a six-month study by the U.S. Justice Department found that the San Francisco Police Department disproportionately used force on people of color and stopped and searched them more often than it did white people.

During the study, federal officials reviewed 548 use-of-force cases between May 2013 and May 2016. The Justice Department found 37% of the people whom city police used force against were African American, a larger percentage than for any other ethnic group. Nine of the 11 people who were killed during use-of-force incidents in that time frame were people of color.

The mayor requested the federal study after Mario Woods, a black man suspected of assault, was shot at least 21 times by police in 2015 while holding a knife.

Former Police Chief Greg Suhr stepped down in May at the request of the mayor following a series of scandals that rocked the department.

For more than a year, San Francisco police have faced intense scrutiny in part because of the disclosure of dozens of racist text messages among officers.

Last year, a federal jury convicted an officer of violating a person's civil rights while conducting unlawful searches at a downtown hotel that serves the poor.

San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon, himself a former LAPD assistant chief who also served as San Francisco police chief, said Scott brings a reputation as an effective police manager to his new role. Scott, he said, once worked for him in the LAPD's patrol operations and under Chief William J. Bratton in internal affairs, where Scott oversaw how the LAPD was implementing reform policies under a federal consent decree.

Scott is latest of LAPD commanders who worked under Bratton to go on and head another police department.

"The Bay Area's gain is L.A.'s loss," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said. "Bill's tactical skills, intelligence and kindness embody the spirit of our department."

Scott joined the LAPD in 1989, working his way up the ranks. He was a young officer in the San Fernando Valley on the day the 1992 riots broke out and was immediately sent to South L.A., where he previously worked.

Scott, a U.S. Army brat, grew up in several cities before his family settled in Birmingham, Ala. He attended the University of Alabama.

Scott is known as an advocate of community policing and has said policing has changed dramatically for the better since his days as a rookie.

Officers, he said, need to think of themselves as guardians watching over communities — not warriors cracking down on them.

"That means if we've got to take somebody to jail, we'll take them to jail," Scott said last year. "But when we need to be empathetic and we need to be human, we've got to do that too."

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UPDATES:

2:05 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Lee, Scott, Gascon, Beck and the union that represents San Francisco police officers.

This article was originally published at 8:15 a.m.

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