The San Francisco Chronicle, FINAL Edition, Metro; MATIER & ROSS
BYLINE: Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón is calling in a team of auditors from the Los Angeles Police Department to investigate whether $7.1 million in cash that's kept in a vault in the Hall of Justice evidence room is secure from a would-be inside job.

Gascón said there was no evidence any money was missing the last time it was counted in November, contrary to rumors that were running around the department. But he did get a tip from inside the evidence room that has raised his concerns about the way seized money - not to mention property such as jewelry, electronics and even furs - is handled.

"The concern is, you don't know what you don't know," Gascón said.

So he's looking to the LAPD, the department where he spent most of his career. He's already turned there once before since taking the job in July, when he brought in Los Angeles investigators in a highly charged case over whether a French citizen living here had been stabbed to death or committed suicide.

Questions involving security at the evidence room come on the heels of the recent discovery that a longtime drug lab technician may have been stealing cocaine, putting scores of prosecutions in jeopardy and forcing the unit's temporary closure.

And there are rumblings that other department scandals may soon surface as well.

"I was brought here to fix a dysfunctional department," Gascón said. "And every time I turn over another rock, I find another problem."

The chief says he doesn't know why so much cash is kept in the evidence room, and he hopes to transfer much of it to a bank for safekeeping.

Last week, Gascón replaced retiring Assistant Chief Jim Lynch with Jeff Godown - an LAPD transplant the chief had already tapped to implement a computerized crime-tracking system, CompStat - and he may ask the Police Commission for permission to shake up his command staff with even more outsiders.

Godown's first assignment will be overseeing the investigation of the troubled crime lab.

"There needs to be some understanding that I don't walk on water, and I have a very thin bench," Gascón said.

The chief said it will take time to clean up the mess he inherited, but insisted it wasn't the department's problem alone.

"Frankly, some of the responsibility for the neglect falls on the entire city family," he said.

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