SF to Amend Press Law for One Blogger?
The municipal code of the City and County of San Francisco is about to be amended, in part, because I want a press ID card from the police department. Of course, my complaint to SFPD Chief George Gascon last week, came on top of years of similar beefs with how the ID cards are handed out from the likes of the Bay Guardian, BAR, Bay Times, and traditional print media reporters.
Yesterday, I received this note from the public info office of the department, outlining some major changes are in store, and the ID I covet will soon be coming my way:
Dear Mr. Petrelis:
[The Chief and I] did manage to discuss your application yesterday. It does not meet our current criteria, because you do not appear to report on or gather information on breaking police related news events.
However, we have discussed adding new wording to our Department General Order 8.09, to identify news related bloggers and web sites, that may have the potential to gather police related type news. This is a some what complex and lengthy process because the General Orders will need approval, and Muni. Police Code 939, 939.1 through 939.7 may need to be re-written to make these accommodations.
We would like to be able to make these permant policy changes quickly, and we will pursue the process in the hopes that we get the updates that we also desire. In the mean time, I will write a Department Bulletin for the Chief's approval, and in that - we will identify media sources such as yours as meeting our criteria. That should make you eligible for a Press Pass within two week. I would like to thank you for your understanding in this matter, and I will contact you as soon as the bulletin is signed.
Sgt. Lyn Tomioka
Yes, some good changes are pending with the PIO, and the Bay Guardian today prints an excellent editorial of advice to Chief Gascon on this subject and other important issues that must be addressed to improve and modernize policing in San Francisco:
Take a public stand against secrecy. Under Chief Fong, the San Francisco Police Department seemed terrified of sunshine. The media relations department acted as if releasing any information to the media was a terrifying prospect. Officers and detectives were told to avoid talking to reporters. And the cops — who, for reasons we still don't understand, have the authority to unilaterally decide who qualifies for a police press pass — use the most narrow interpretation and keep bloggers, small publications, and nontraditional media out of the information loop.
Gascon has done the right thing by bringing in outside help and vowing to expand his definition of news media. But given the stifling climate of secrecy in the department, he needs to do more. Directing his staff to cooperate with the press (through a public general order) would be a big step. Announcing that all police reports (unless they involve a confidential source or situation) will be posted on the Web would go even further.
The police commission meets tonight, starting at 6 PM, at the Gordon Lau J. Elementary School located in Chinatown at 950 Clay Street. I'll be present to use public comment to raise these issues before the commissioners.
Regarding the General Order for the PIO's daily governing rules, click here to read the 1994 (?!) currently guiding the PIO and its relations with the press and public.
And click here to read up on the municipal codes that are about to be amended. Enter "SEC. 939. ISSUANCE OF PRESS CARDS" in the search box to read up on the codes pertaining to the police and press IDs.