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Crosscurrents logo 2021

San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy Reflects On Her Final Days In Law Enforcement

Holly J. McDede
San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy began her term as the city's first female sheriff in 2016.

On Christmas Eve in 1975, Vicki Hennessy worked her first shift inside a San Francisco jail. Decades later, she went on to be elected San Francisco’s first female sheriff.

Before Hennessy was elected in 2015, the department was rocked by scandals. Two inmates had escaped, and deputies were accused of forcing inmates to take part in gladiator-style fights. Hennessy ran to bring stability and trust back to the office. As sheriff, she introduced policies to make conditions safer for transgender inmates. She wiped out costs people had to pay for electronic monitoring and launched a policy to mak phone calls free for people behind bars.

"I can't tell you how many times people get out of jail, and I see them on the street, or one of my deputies sees them on the street, and they tell them how jail saved their lives. Should we have mental health treatment on the outside before somebody goes to jail? Absolutely. That should happen."

But Hennessy’s administration was not without allegations of deputy misconduct, including allegations that several deputies severely beat inmates and conducted degrading strip searches. Earlier this year, she announced investigations into some serious misconduct cases would be turned over to the city’s Department of Police Accountability.   

Over the years, Hennessy says she’s learned a lot from the inmates inside the jails, and the deputies who work for her. She recalls an inmate calling her office recently to thank her when he was released from jail. Hennessy says another inmate at the jail recently attempted suicide when an inmate nearby yelled for the deputies, who saved that man’s life. 

Then there are the darker stories that stay with her. When she was a new deputy, she says, she performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on an 18-year-old who ultimately overdosed on heroin. 

Paul Miyamoto, chief deputy with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, will take the helm as the city’s new sheriff in January. Hennessy says when she retires, she plans to take a vacation, spend more time with her family, and clean out her garage.