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From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn



  March 10, 2003  

True Legacies of a Police Department

At its core, the story emerging from the San Francisco Police Department appears to deal with legacy. The legacy a father gives to his son. The legacy a chief gives to his or her officers. The legacy a mayor leaves for the history books.

We seem to have forgotten that the Police Department's legacy does not rely on a few individuals. The legacy of the department depends on its officers' actions and how they
adhere to the highest and best standards in serving the public day after day.
The department's good work will continue even if methods are updated to meet changing times, even if officers are trained to adopt different behaviors, or someone is let go to find a different (and perhaps better) future.

I was reminded of the truth about legacy today when one of my employees told me that she had shown her son a picture, taken five years ago, of herself with Acting Assistant Chief Heather Fong. It was a group shoot of all of the 50 Mayor's Excellence Award winners that year, and my employee was standing ten people and two rows away from then-Captain Fong in a group of 50 people. She wanted to show her son how far Chief Fong had gone in the five years since that picture was taken. And how far her son could go if he wanted to.

Twenty years from now, her son will get the chance to show his son a photo of another police chief who finally climbed to the top of the ladder within the department. Maybe it will be him. But during those twenty years, countless officers will have done their best day after day, countless will have trained new officers to do their best day after day, and countless San Franciscans will be positively impacted by the efforts of these officers to continue the legacy of the San Francisco Police Department.

Legacy isn't about one person or even a group of people. It's about the continuing efforts of several generations of people - all working for the common good. All working for a common goal, such as serving the residents of San Francisco. It's about doing this work while remembering those who came before and keeping their high standards for those who will come after. It is about changing methods, behaviors, and expectations as the times change - and remembering that the legacy will continue even within that changed format.

It isn't about one group of individuals being the gatekeepers of a legacy. Rather, it is the commitment of a large team working together to create the synergy that will in turn create a greater good. Sometimes it is difficult to separate the message from the messenger. Sometimes it is easy to forget the larger picture. It is easier to focus only on the here and now.

This may be why the State of California is so eager to cut education yet fund prisons. It may be why the Bush Administration is so willing to drill oil in protected natural areas. It may be why the supporters of Prop N are so eager to cut cash subsidies for the homeless. It may be why we ourselves are so willing to invest everything in today's reality - rather than remembering and working toward the bigger picture: a better future for those who come after us. We forget that we are only part of long line of individuals who will each have only a brief moment to inhabit this planet.

Legacy means investing in the future and having the faith and the conviction that the future will look bright - even when we are long gone.