Police Chief chronicles factual errors in newspaper
series on police use of force
San Francisco Police Chief points to use of force report
filed by Officer Stephen Benzinger. Record of the report
contradicts Tuesday Chronicle story which reported
Benzinger did not file a use of force report.
By Pat Murphy and Luke
February 10, 2006
Police Chief Heather Fong yesterday pointed to factual errors
in a recent San Francisco Chronicle series on police use of force.
In addition, Fong said, a Chronicle representative conducted
himself unprofessionally regarding police services for Chronicle
Fong indicated the Chronicle series "had a certain bias
to it" and unfairly portrayed police conduct.
"We have reviewed the articles in the series and have found
some factual errors," stated Fong.
"Initially I need to emphasize the professionalism of the
officers of this department.
"San Francisco is a very unique city and on a daily basis
we handle so many types of events, and types of calls for service
- the officers of this department bring their training and their
experience and their professionalism to all of those calls.
"Our officers do not bring their personal feelings in terms
of supporting or not supporting any cause, and they do their job,"
She cited alleged unprofessional conduct by the Chronicle.
"So in September of this year for the department to be approached
by someone from the Chronicle, and requesting a meeting stating
that they were concerned about the response of officers in a labor
dispute because of a negative article that is coming forth, that
leads me to believe that, one, this article had a certain bias
to it in the first place, and secondly to question the professionalism
of the men and women of this deprtment I think is extremely inappropriate.
"In any situation, labor dispute, demonstration, our officers
are there to do their job and do it responsibly. They are not
there questioning First Amendment free speech rights of the people
who are participating.
"We are there to enforce the law when there is a violation
of the law, and absent that I find it very troubling for someone
to feel that our officers would not perform in a fair and professional
manner," related Fong.
Police records reveal Chronicle factual errors, Fong noted.
"An area of factual error that I'd like to point out is
that on Tuesday there was a statement made that references an
incident that happened in February in Bayview Station, and to
quote from the article, 'Benzinger never filed a use of force
report in connection with the incident involving this individual
according to department records.'
"I have here a copy of the use of force report that was
filed," Fong demonstrated.
"Next item of factual error is from the Sunday article where...it
lists the highest number of lawsuit payouts 1996 to 2005.
"It lists the plaintiff, the police involved, date of payment,
"Under the case of the family of Sheila Detoy it says police
involved (and) it says police involved - Gregory Breslin and James
"Inspector Zerga was not named nor was he served in this
case and we have the court documents here showing that Inspector
Zerga's name was not on this case."
The number of complaints received by the Office of Citizens Complaints
(OCC) reported by the Chronicle do not match information posted
on the OCC website, Fong stated.
Inaccuracy occurred in the Sunday Chronicle report, she continued.
"Again on the Sunday story...it lists the number of complaints
allegedly made to the OCC in the years '01, '02, '03, and '04.
"The numbers listed there do not match the numbers listed
posted on the City OCC website.
"In '01 the Chronicle reports 464 complaints - the OCC on
their website reports 410.
"In '02 the Chronicle reports 510 - the OCC website reports
"In '03 the Chronicle reports 535 - the OCC website reports
"And in '04 the Chronicle reports 376 and the OCC reports
On August 18, 2005, Fong asked a Chronicle representative to
provide Fong with "specific data because I could not respond
to some of the questions based on certain information."
"I was told that it would be provided and that they would
"In my last two conversations with Ms. (Chronicle reporter
Susan) Sward did also tape those conversations and in those discussions
I did again personally ask for data so that we could repond to
"Without source material, source data, and knowledge of
the methodology of comparison, it's very difficult if not impossible
to respond to certain questions."
At that time Fong's request was denied, she said.
A Chronicle staffer attended the briefing but referred Sentinel
request for response to the Chronicle's media relations office.