Suhr apologizes for sparse spying report, pledges more info

Two undercover SFPD officers work under FBI command on domestic surveillance operations.

Police Chief Greg Suhr has issued an apology for the sparse report on joint SFPD-FBI surveillance activities that his department gave last week, pledging to work with the activists who had criticized it as failing to comply with a city law adopted last year. But it remains to be seen whether the two sides will agree on the level of detail that would constitute meaningful civilian oversight of sensitive domestic spying operations.

“The report was accurate and complied with the ordinance, but briefer than what he had hoped for,” SFPD Sgt. Michael Andraychak told the Guardian this afternoon. “Chief Suhr has ensured compliance with the ordinance but did not have an opportunity to review the report prior to the presentation to the commission. The chief personally apologizes to those who attended the commission meeting for the brevity of the report and promised to have future reports more developed. The Chief's Office is in the process of scheduling meetings with Nasrina Bargzie [of the Asian Law Caucus] to develop a report with more detail so those concerned and the public can be as informed as possible. Chief Suhr is committed to remain in compliance with the ordinance.”

While Bargzie said she welcomes the apology and pledge to be more forthcoming, “We disagree that the report that was issued was in compliance with the ordinance.” While that watered down version of a stronger ordinance that Mayor Ed Lee had vetoed was vague, Bargzie said that, “It does require that the commission be given enough information to provide oversight.”

In correspondence between Bargzie and Suhr over the last year, the Coalition insisted that the report include details on the number of investigations or assessments requested by the FBI, how many requests SFPD personnel refused, how disputes were resolved, and other information, which she said Suhr told her last year that he would provide.

But he seemed to dispute that in a Jan. 23 letter to her, writing, “I assured you that the Department's JTTF report would include all public information required by the ordinance. I did not commit to provide all information requested in your letter dated June 8, 2012.”

Sup. Jane Kim, who sponsored both the stronger original legislation that Lee vetoed and the compromise measure that followed, expressed hope Suhr and the Coalition will find common ground. “The chief himself met with me and apologized for it,” she told us. “He acknowledged that it was not a good report and said he would work with the Coalition on this.”

She acknowledged that the ordinance itself doesn't spell out the specificity that the Coalition is seeking. “In order for us to get the compromise, we had to work with the Mayor's Office. It was watered down,” she said. Yet Kim said meaningful oversight is still what she expects to see: “We need a lot more specificity and the details the Coalition would like to see.”