Activists slam hollow report on SFPD-FBI spying

Police Chief Greg Suhr refused to elaborate on SFPD-FBI activities during the Jan. 23 Police Commission hearing.

UPDATE: SUHR APOLOGIZES FOR REPORT The San Francisco Police Department continues to resist meaningful oversight of its partnership with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. After last year pressuring Mayor Ed Lee into vetoing a strong oversight measure and signing a weaker version, the SFPD last week issued a required report that activists are slamming as “grossly inadequate.”

The Coalition for a Safe San Francisco – which includes civil libertarians and members of Muslim groups and other targets of racial and religious profiling by the FBI – last May stood with Police Chief Greg Suhr and sponsoring Sup. Jane Kim as Lee signed what they called this “historic civil rights legislation.”

But at the time, the activists told the Guardian that the value of the watered-down legislation depended entirely on how it was implemented, particularly in the annual reports on SFPD-FBI operations that it required. To ensure they were specific enough to be meaningful, the coalition says it communicated with Suhr several times asking him to include the number of joint investigations undertaken, how many times FBI requests were denied by the SFPD, and possible violations of department policy and how they were handled.

Instead, when Deputy Chief John Loftus gave the first of these annual reports to the Police Commission on Jan. 23, he spoke for only a couple minutes and said the SFPD was in “full compliance” with the ordinance and a Suhr general order banning surveillance of law-abiding citizens, offering no further details.

“We were very clear with the chief about what we expected to see,” Nadia Kayyali of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a coalition member, told the Guardian. She also said the report “was slipped on the agenda at the last minute,” despite assurances that the coalition would be notified and given a chance to respond. “It does show a lack of regard for the ordinance and the work that went into it.”

The activists say that Suhr broke his promise to them to include the more specific information that they sought, even after they recently followed up with messages reminding him about that assurance. "I was in the meeting where he said he would," Nasrina Bargzie with the Asian Law Caucus, another coalition member, told us. Bargzie said she was disappointed and dismayed by what the report included, "but we're going to keep pushing on it."

The controversy surrounding possible SFPD-FBI spying on people who haven't violated any laws – which is illegal under local and state law – broke almost two years ago when the American Civil Liberties Union obtained a secret 2007 SFPD-FBI memorandum of understanding placing SFPD officers under FBI command. It seemed to bypass local restrictions adopted after past SFPD scandals involving police spying on political groups.

Suhr tried to quell the controversy by issuing a general order banning officers from participating in surveillance that violates local rules or the state constitution's privacy protections, but activists pushed for a stronger assurance. The Board of Supervisors then voted 6-5 to codify those protections into city law, but Suhr objected and Lee vetoed the measure. A weaker version calling for annual reports and Police Commission reviews of future SFPD-FBI MOUs was approved unanimously by the board.

Now, it appears the SFPD has done little to soften the “trust us” stance that it has taken from the beginning, frustrating activists who had pushed for more, here and in other cities that do domestic surveillance with the FBI.

“These policies are explicit and unequivocal. San Francisco Police Department members and their Joint Terrorism Task Force supervisors are aware of and familiar with these policies,” Loftus told the commission, explaining that the SFPD did its required quarterly reviews in November and two weeks ago, finding nothing to report.

Police Commissioner Suzy Loftus asked if he could “explain a bit more” and Suhr – who was at the stand giving his report as Deputy Chief Loftus (no relation) gave his from the lectern – answered: “All San Francisco police officers are held to the San Francisco Police Department policies and procedures and the policies and laws of San Francisco, whichever is more strict. So depending on wherever they are, their fallback, if you will, is whatever the policies, procedures, laws, ordinances, and all of San Francisco.”

Suhr's answer seemed to satisfy the commission, which defended the SFPD's secretive approach rather than asking any more questions.

“Our officers will not participate in any investigation unless there is a predicate offense that is a violation of the California Penal Code or the United States code, so they will not be involved in random surveillance or random assessments or talking to people,” Commission President Thomas Mazzucco said.

Commissioner Joe Marshall also said he trusts Suhr and we all should too: “I want the public to feel reassured that when the chief says that's going to be the way it is, that's the way it is.”

But the coalition, which includes 79 organizations, was less than satisfied with that answer. In a statement issued today, it wrote, “Deputy Chief Loftus’ report completely failed to provide the information required to ensure the accountability and transparency required under the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance. The Coalition calls on the Chief of Police to promptly issue a public written report containing the information he promised he would provide.”

Neither Kim – who sponsored both the original legislation and weaker alternative – nor the SFPD have returned Guardian calls for comment yet, but I'll update this post if and when they do. You can watch the hearing yourself here, with that item beginning at the 48:20 mark.



who seek to stop terrorists over those who whine about their rights who, invariably and hardly coincidentally, are usually the ones getting up to the most mischief.

This SF voters gives the SFPD full support for using discretion and judgment in investigation and stopping terrorists. The only people usually interest in "oversight2 over the cops are a little too friendly with criminals.

Posted by anon on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

You'd be a model citizen in any authoritarian dictatorship.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

someone under investigation for terrorism then, yes, I am a citizen and that only makes me a troll in circles who act as apologists for those who seek to destroy our nation.

SFPD has my full support. You?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

It's not about people who "seek to destroy our nation."

Now that you mention it, though, *you* apparently seek to destory our nation by being such a bootlicker.

I give the SFPD my full support *only* when they are doing their job, not breaking the law by circumventing civilian control or spying on locals for foreign countries while collecting a locally-issued paycheck w/benefits.

Other times, the SFPD *does* *not* have my full support. That makes *me* an American.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 6:27 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 6:48 am

Libertarian, authoritarian, big brother troll.

We are all criminals.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 7:09 am

The authorities are free to investigate me any time they like. Why would an innocent person not co-operate fully with LE?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 8:04 am

might value his constitutional rights. Since you post anonymously, I can't be sure, but there's a good chance that you are the same guy that practices wage theft against undocumented day laborers. If not, you almost certainly break some other law--tax evasion, jaywalking.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 8:24 am

I was polite and co-operative with the cop, apologized for my error, and he let me off without a citation.

Being co-operative with LE works even when you're guilty.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 8:32 am

for violating the law is completely different from the police illegally violating someone's constitutional rights through warrantless surveillance.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 8:48 am

US to spy on people if national safety is at stake. It's that whole James Bond thing, ya know?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:07 am

is not the standard for our constitutional rights.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:17 am

will tolerate when rules get finessed a little to achieve a greater good.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:30 am

You mean, "broken"

Posted by Greg on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 11:35 am

Rules are not broken if prosecutors exercise their prosecutorial "discretion" and look the other way, the same kind of "discretion" cops are granted in their work to only enforce the laws against unsympathetic targets.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 11:50 am

Like, you are being conned, but it's really for your own benefit. Get it?

In reality, Lord Acton's Maxim indicates that there is no such thing as a nice con when it comes to what our government does to us.

And rather than "broken," I think "violated" has a more suitably sharp edge to it.

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

give cops some discretion in how they act, because they accept that as a price of dealing with the bad guys.

Even if a liberal town like SF, people want to feel safe and are willing to look away if there is some fuzziness to get results.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

Your are so self-centered and delusional that you think that your opinion represents everybody elses.

Civil libertarians are working to protect your rights, but you are too complacent and stupid to recognize that fact.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

Voters are NOT always happy to give cops more discretion. The last time more police oversight was on the ballot, it PASSED. I know, because I worked on that initiative.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

Try talking to ordinary people rather than "activists" and you will find a great deal of support and sympathy for the cops, and very little for those who seek to constrain them from catching the bad guys.

Fortunately, the cops know exactly how to snow your "oversight" so it's moot anyway.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

in our country. You are perfectly happy if the police have no civilian oversight.

In other words, you are a fascist. Ordinary people voted in the election cited by Greg and Marcos.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

would trust the average SFPD cop to do the right thing far more than I would trust you to. so, no, I don't want a cop hater like you or Greg overseeing the cops. That would make me feel less safe.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

If memory serves, the POA spent just short of $500K on their campaign which included TV spots by Fineswine.

We spent $77K and we came up 8000 votes ahead on election night.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

"Progressive ideas are not popular"

Of course, the reality is that when the people are asked whether the cops should have oversight such as being made to walk beats, the people overwhelmingly say yes.

1 Progressive ideas are not popular

2 Progressives want to tell everyone else how to run their lives

3 Only corporations pay tax

4 Poor people here are actually quite wealthy.

5 All politicians lie

6 "Purity progressives" can't compromise

7 Progressives have situational ethics

8 Progressives ignore pressing problems while promoting pet projects.

9 Anybody who thinks the police must have proper civilian oversight is a "cop hater."

10 Presidents always move to the center

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

DING DING DING! Big Troll Lie alert!

And, of course, the notion that "most Americans are happy" for the US to spy on them even when they have done *nothing* to attract such interest -- besides being of a certain ethnic or economic background -- is an example of the one Big Troll Lie which tops the charts:

"Progressive ideas are not popular"

(Though, to be fair, since the right to privacy is something a great many Libertarians believe in too, it can't be exclusively be characterized as "Progressive" -- and which makes the claim in this instance so much more absurd.)

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:28 am

I do not because, again, I have nothing to fear or lose by them.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:30 am

People have died to protect your freedoms. But you couldn't be bothered to speak out in defense of the U.S. Constitution and the rights of every American provided therein. While the right to privacy is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has said that several of the amendments create this right. One of the amendments is the Fourth Amendment, which stops the police and other government agents from searching us or our property without "probable cause" to believe that we have committed a crime. Other amendments protect our freedom to make certain decisions about our bodies and our private lives without interference from the government.

Posted by George Washington on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

But the sad fact is, that like total support for Wall Street, and endless drone wars, there is no way that we can vote so that the government does not increasingly operate unaccountably, in secret, and spies on us.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

Especially not one entrusted with the power to kill. That's just inviting abuse, even if most of the people in that organization are well-intentioned.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

It's the bad guys who fear them, and I can live with that.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 6:48 am

socioeconomic information so readers can understand why you feel that way.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 7:11 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 8:04 am


Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 8:05 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 8:23 am

Race is a factor in police (mis)conduct towards people.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 8:33 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 8:59 am

and think for yourself. Although, neither reading comprehension nor critical thinking appear to be your strengths.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:08 am

threats to this nation do not correlate in any way with, for example, being from the middle-east, and therefore it would be totally illogical and unfair if the FBI and the secret service and the SFPD actually monitored those with a middle eastern connection.

Presumably you think we should pay equal attention to, say, coachloads of visiting Norwegian grandmothers?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:25 am

Threats to the nation from the middle east are less than the threats to the nation by individual gun owners here in the US.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:32 am

foreign invaders and occupiers, as well as against our own government. If you don't like the government spying on you, that's an argument for you to be able to offer armed resistance to that government

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:43 am

Idiot troll.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 10:06 am

before making dumb and false assumptions about why the right to bear arms was held to be so sacred by the founding fathers that they made that the very first amendment after the right to free speech. And but for arms you might no longer have that either.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 10:36 am

What an paranoid idiot troll. The threat from US firearms owners is minimal, the threat from "the mid east" to Americans is even smaller.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 10:40 am

Go tell that to the families of the victims, asswipe.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 11:11 am

Every year, three times more people are killed by firearms than were killed once on 9/11. Even still, both threats are statistically de minimus.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

was largely a concession to Virginia slaveholders to legalize their armed militias that pursued escaped slaves.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 10:51 am

a well-armed peoples' militia that won this nation it's independence.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 11:12 am

I thought it was help from the French.

Posted by Eddie on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 11:23 am
Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

"The rest of your post is also wrong"

"You (Progressive) never win a debate"

"You (Progressive) resort to ad hominem and labels"

"I get the better of you (Progressive) every time"

"But you said before..." (Lying about what a Progressive commenter's position is)

"You appear to be saying that ...." (Set-up for a paper tiger argument containing within itself an un-American effrontery.)

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 9:36 am