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Chronicle series sparks police chief indignation

Police Chief Heather Fong at a press conference yesterday holds up a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday edition containing a photo of a man unconnected to the newspaper's story.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy and Luke Thomas

February 7, 2006

San Francisco yesterday stood spectator to questions of police use of force raised Sunday by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Chronicle series entitled "The Use of Force - When SFPD Officers Resort to Violence" reported less than five percent of officers are responsible for 25% of force incidents with slow-moving oversight procedures permitting problem officers to remain onduty.

The series set off indignation Monday by Police Chief Heather Fong. Chronicle inaccessibility allegations for preparation of the series startled Mayor Gavin Newsom. And most involved portrayed fundamental police reform as unstoppable although shape remains contentious.

Developments yesterday included:

-- An angry Police Chief Heather Fong asserting, "It was not the intention of this article to look at good things." She noted a new system for detection and oversight of force incidents was announced eleven days ago. Fong also referred to an inaccurate Chronicle photo as raising "serious concerns about the analysis of all of the other data that they have obtained.'' She complained Chronicle unfavorable comparison with other cities' force incidents provided no basis for comparison without data collection formula explained. Fong related she is conferring with the San Francisco City Attorney on possible legal action against the Chronicle.

-- The Chronicle offered "regrets" for a photo which erroneously portrayed a man as a problem officer. "He's not a member of the police department. I don't know who he is," Fong had complained. Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein stood by accuracy of the series, noting "The photo error, while serious, does not change the basic issues raised by the series about the department's lack of a reliable system for tracking use of force and its failure to hold accountable officers who repeatedly resort to use of force." The Chronicle reported it had not been asked by Fong for excessive force data collection system used by other cities.

-- Mayor Gavin Newsom praised the series as raising an important issue. "I think the piece is a very good piece in the context of bringing up an issue that is a critical and fundamental issue," Newsom told the Sentinel. However, he was startled by charges of inaccessibly to the Chronicle, citing himself well known for being responsive to the press. "I've met with everybody everywhere and people find me anywhere," he added.

Mayor Gavin Newsom

-- Mayoral Press Secretary Peter Ragone noted a series of email exchanges between his office and the Chronicle showed that awaited specific interview date request from the Chronicle did not come.

Email from Peter Ragone to Chronicle reporter Susan Sward,
dated 1/26/6, asking Sword, "Can you do an interview next week?"

Peter Ragone

-- In a hearing on gun violence, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell concluded not enough is being done to establish trust between police and troubled neighborhoods. Alan Nance, director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, agreed with her.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell

Alan Nance

Meanwhile, a new report by the City Controller discovered new city revenues of $137 million, Deputy Controller Monique Zmuda told the Sentinel.

Monique Zmuda

"The report shows recovery in the real estate market has taken place," stated Zumda.

Portions of new found funding must augment the police budget, Newsom pointed out.

"We have no choice. We've got minimum staffing requirements and by some analysis we're not meeting them," said Newsom.

"We have a very ambitious plan to add new officers for the next four or five years."

Bay City News Service contributed to this report.




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