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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.

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy and Luke Thomas

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 labor negotiations.

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," Fong continued.

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, amount paid.

"Under the case of the family of Sheila Detoy it says police involved (and) it says police involved - Gregory Breslin and James Zerga.

"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 451.

"In '03 the Chronicle reports 535 - the OCC website reports 466.

"And in '04 the Chronicle reports 376 and the OCC reports 341."

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 follow up.

"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 the comparisons.

"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.




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