August 2012

Respected Bayview Station Captain Retires After 42 Years on Force

Amber Hawkins

During a career with the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) that started in 1970, when Paul Chignell was 21, the recently retired officer saw the department become integrated—with African-Americans, women, and gays—witnessed anti-war demonstrations, and served as Bayview station captain. In 1978, Dan White chose Chignell as his arresting officer. “I turned myself in at Northern Station to Officer Paul Chignell who, who I could trust and I, I know would do things properly,” said White, who was convicted of murdering Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

During his four decade career Chignell noted that Potrero Hill and Dogpatch have steadily changed, with new housing and businesses moving in, transforming from working class neighborhoods to being increasingly affluent. One of the biggest challenges he faced as Bayview captain was gang-related violence emanating from the various public housing complexes — including Potrero Annex-Terrace — located throughout Southside. “Most of the people who live there are law abiding and just trying to get out of poverty…but there are people who come in from other neighborhoods who cause violence and gang activity,” he said.

SFPD has dedicated specific officers to monitor Annex-Terrace, so they can become familiar with the area and mentor the community’s children, encouraging them to avoid gang life. Chignell mentioned that Annex-Terrace residents frequently have a jaded view of City agencies, “but if people keep in touch with us and involve us, we can get things done”. Chignell spoke highly of other government agencies—such as the San Francisco Planning Department—which have worked to assist public housing residents.

According to Chignell, some crime patterns will likely be present into the future. “Auto break-ins, homeless people down on their luck, and property crime will continue to be an issue until more can be done to make stronger sanctions,” he said. With significant amounts of construction occurring in Dogpatch and Potrero Hill, Chignell and the police station is aware that there’s a high demand for the materials being utilized, and are doing their best to minimize metal and copper theft.

Although Chignell said it felt strange, and a little distressing, to not put on his uniform everyday and go to meetings, he enjoyed his time at the Bayview station and planned to visit often with the many friends he’s made during his time working in the area. He’s excited to spend more time with his two daughters, ages 11 and 14. He also plans to stay involved in promoting safety by starting a security business with another retired officer.

Chignell encouraged Southside residents to become involved in community organizations, such as a neighborhood watch, merchant, or social group, as a means to develop relationships and discuss what’s happening nearby. He also championed the use of all City agencies, not just the SFPD, to help maintain safety, including the Planning, Public Works, and Fire departments. But, he advised, citizens shouldn’t be reluctant to contact the police, even if the call is based on a modest suspicion. By sharing information burglaries and other crimes can be reduced.

Robert O’Sullivan is serving as Bayview station’s acting captain, based in part on Chignell’s strong endorsement. Chignell has worked with O’Sullivan—who is familiar with the Southside community and respected by his fellow officers — and is confident in his leadership skills.


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