Bisa French has rocketed up the ranks in recent years, and on Sunday became the youngest captain in the department’s history and the first female African-American captain.

French, 37, is known for her steady presence and unflappable cool, traits owed in part to serving as the public spokeswoman for the department for years, a position that puts her in front of cameras and feisty reporters amid crisis situations.

It also comes from being a single mother at age 18, a turn in life that she said forced her to grow up in a hurry and redouble her efforts to achieve her dreams.

French is seen as a prototype leader within the administration of Chief Chris Magnus, one of the Bay Area’s most progressive law enforcement officials.

French is a firm believer in Magnus’ community-policing model and has become his point-person in helping expand the Family Justice Center, an innovative one-stop-shop resource center for domestic violence victims.

In addition, French will take over command of the central district, one of the city’s most crime-plagued areas, but also a place where some of the most pronounced improvements in public safety have been made in recent years.

Below are some quotes and anecdotes gathered in recent days that may shed additional light on who French is:


Advertisement

  • “(Captain) Mark Gagan and (Deputy Chief) AB (Allwyn Brown) have been major mentors for me. AB even recommend that I be hired once upon a time ... And the chief (Magnus) has to be counted as a mentor. I served as his chief of staff last year, and I got to follow him around for a year. That gave me the opportunity to learn a lot.”

  • “When I got pregnant at 18, I felt like I let a lot of people down. My parents had high hopes for me ... I was determined to not disappoint anyone again.”

  • “When I first started working (in 1998), it was busy, fast paced, shootings, homicides. It was a different time in a lot of ways, but I enjoyed it from the start. I was a community policing officer early on, working in the Iron Triangle. Then moved to community policing in the southern district. I did some bike patrol. Served as a field training officer. I always have loved my job.”

  • “I learned early on to set boundaries and to speak my mind about things that were right and wrong. It was hard being a woman in the department. I wasn’t gonna let people run over me, but I did so in a tactful way.”

  • “You think you know it all when you’re young and fresh out of the police academy. You really need to learn to listen. That’s where you learn. That’s what I had to learn. I wish I had listened more as a young officer ... but it was a reflection of the time and the way we had always done business.”

  • “I got promoted to sergeant by Terry Hudson two days before Chief Magnus started. So Magnus doesn’t know me, but I am his new sergeant. It was a big learning opportunity for me. We were changing the way we do things, rapidly, and change is tough, especially for cops. People were resisting. ... My reality check was when I wanted to move up in rank, so I took (the command staff) test and passed, but then I sat on the list for a long time. I assumed I would get promoted, but it didn’t happen. So I had a conversation with (Magnus) about the list and what I needed to do. ... It was a wake-up call. He said he was not going to promote someone who is not ready. That really set in with me. I had to reflect on what to do. So I did leadership programs, went back to school and finished my BA. ... I needed to change. I needed to really prepare myself. I’m not going to just get it. I had to step my game up.”

  • “I’m proud of how far I have come. More than anything, I just hope that my story inspires.”