The Los Angeles Police Commission is keeping the identities of two candidates to replace outgoing department Chief William Bratton a secret. You see, the applicants don't want their out-of-town departments to know they're going for the brass ring.

But that won't prevent us from wondering aloud about the identity of at least one of the would-bes. (The other 11 candidates are all Los Angeles Police Department insiders, including high-profile cops like Valley Commander Michel Moore, detectives Commander Charles L. Beck, Chief of Staff Jim McDonnell, and Assistant Chief Sharon Papa).

In this guessing game, even as Superchief Bratton has encouraged the commission to choose from within the all-star management team he assembled during his tenure at the LAPD, it would be hard to ignore San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon.

His desire and eligibility for the LAPD job has been discounted because he just took the top-cop gig in San Francisco. But Gascon, who spent more than 25 years at the LAPD, including a stint as assistant chief, has never concealed his ambition. He even tried out for chief in 2002, when Bratton won the gig. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote in June, after Gascon accepted the Bay Area job, that “the city may not have him for long. Gascón has been rumored to want the top job in the LAPD.”

His career track has been wisely calculated for just that climb: A few years after Bratton took the reigns of the LAPD, and while he was at a respectable number-two position at the department, Gascon moved to Arizona to take over the top cop job in Mesa. He could add a mid-sized city and number-one leadership status to his resume. He needed to run his own show.

In Mesa, Gascon shook up the department and clashed with local redneck Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who allegedly conducted illegal-immigrant sweeps in the city without informing the local law (e.g. Gascon). (Arpaio has denied that he failed to inform Mesa police of his raids). The two have had a contentious relationship since and, after taking the S.F. job in summer Gascon reportedly invited the notoriously anti-immigrant sheriff to come out to the Bay for Italian dinner with him. The invite was in Spanish.

Gascon was born in Cuba, and that puts another point in his favor: He would become the LAPD's first Latino chief in a city where Latinos make up nearly half the population. Bratton worked hard to make the LAPD reflective of its community, and the department is now majority minority. A Gascon appointment would put an exclamation point on the effort.

Gascon earned the respect of the Mesa force and is already adding Bratton-style management practices, including crime-statistics-based enforcement, to the SFPD repertoire. Bratton, whose opinion seems to hold a lot of weight in the matter, is a fan.

He told the Chronicle, “I've worked in this business for 40 years, and he's one of the best there is.”

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