by Michael Durand
Captain Alexa O’Brien, the newly-appointed head of the San Francisco Police
Department’s (SFPD) Richmond Station, has paid her dues. She pounded the beat in
several neighborhoods around the City, knows the adrenaline rush of being a lieutenant
investigating homicides, has gone undercover busting up drug deals and
gangs, and posed as a prostitute in the Tenderloin to catch “johns.”
Being born in Children’s Hospital nearby was the start of O’Brien’s San
Francisco story. She attended the Katherine Delmar Burke School in the Sea
Cliff from kindergarten through fourth grade. When her parents divorced, O’Brien
moved with her mother to upstate New York, but came back to attend the
University of San Francisco to study sociology and criminology. She graduated the
SF Police Department’s Academy in 2000.
O’Brien is the first in her family to work in law enforcement. Her father was a
doctor, a gastroenterologist who worked at the California Pacific Medical Center. Her
mother held a master’s degree in public administration and had a career in city politics,
working for San Francisco mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom.O’Brien even spent
some time working for Brown as scheduling secretary before she became a cop.
O’Brien’s interest in the police department was sparked by an unusual source.
“I used to have frequent conversations with a Muni driver, who told me one day
that his daughter got accepted into the police academy and she was going to be a
police officer. I thought ‘Wow. That’s so cool!’ I always wanted to see what was
happening on the other side of the crime scene tape,” O’Brien said.
After working on patrol in various neighborhoods, O’Brien dealt with the
criminal elements in the middle and high schools in the Mission District as a school
resource officer. She later became interested in how the vice squad worked and
went undercover making drug busts and posing as a prostitute. O’Brien said she
was not scared.
“We had ‘cover officers’ within sight who were dressed as homeless people, but
we weren’t wired and we didn’t carry guns. It was exciting!” she said.
As her career progressed, O’Brien said she was “promoted to patrol sargent, then
lieutenant of night investigations, then lieutenant of homicides. Then, Police
Chief Greg Suhr promoted me to captain. I worked for him until his retirement.
Later, the interim-chief, Tony Chaplain, transferred me to major crimes, which
handles homicide, gang task force, night investigations and narcotics. All four of
those units were my command.”
O’Brien continued, “Working at the crime scenes, you’re driven by adrenaline
and by the element of excitement. Investigations are so interesting. It’s a different
world of policing altogether. That’s why they make so many television shows
about it. Catching the bad guys really is fun!”
Now that O’Brien is at the helm of the Richmond Station, there are fewer major
crimes she needs to deal with. “My role here is more about leadership,
keeping officer morale up and making sure we’re here to listen to the community and
let them know we’re aware of their concerns,” O’Brien said. “It’s really refreshing
to be here in the Richmond, because, for the most part, cops are really well liked
O’Brien has some unique goals for the police station. “I really want the community
to get to know our police officers and our station. We’re inviting the kids in the
community to put their artwork on our walls and to feel comfortable coming
into the station.”
As for her personal life, O’Brien is a single mother who lives in Pacifica with
her two girls, aged 13 and 14. “I’m a foodie,” O’Brien said. “I went to
culinary school and was a pastry chef at Garibaldi’s.” She has traveled quite a bit,
including London, Florence, Rome, Greece, Iceland and even lived in Kenya, teaching
English, math and science to a Luhya tribe for three months. Some day, she would like to
visit Thailand and other countries in Asia. O’Brien’s next trip is to Ireland. It will be her
first visit, even though she is 100-percent Irish. “My dad is an O’Brien and my mom is a
Foley. It doesn’t get any more Irish than that,” she said. “And I like being out in the
Richmond because I don’t like the sun!” she said with a laugh.
For more information about Capt. Alexa O’Brien or the Richmond Station,
go to the website at http://sanfranciscopolice.org/richmond-station.