Saturday, August 29, 2009

SF Police Chief:
Blogger's Press ID Under Review

The city of San Francisco has a new top cop, George Gascon, on the job a few short weeks, and I have something nice to say about him. But first, the background.

On July 2, after a case management hearing in the federal Prop 8 lawsuit filed by Ted Olson and David Boies, a press conference was held inside the federal building, but I was kept out by security guards because I lacked an SFPD-issued press ID badge.

I applied for an ID card, spent $11 on two small photos needed by the police public info office (PIO) and was eventually denied a press pass. The denial form highlighted this section:

Only persons employed by newsgathering media who are required to cover breaking news and to pass through police and fire lines qualify for a press pass.

Clearly the SFPD is not aware, nor concerned with, other reasons why reporters and bloggers need the pass, such as being allowed into restricted parts of the federal courthouse. Nothing in the two-page rejection letter sent via snail mail cited any info about appealing the decision, and the PIO site similarly omits such info. Several calls to the PIO, seeking info on filing an appeal, were never returned.

Then yesterday, Brent Begin at the SF Examiner reported on Gascon's effort to modernize the PIO, and this terrific development was noted:

Public information officers will also reach out more to new media, such as blogs and Web sites, and will hand out credentials to more than just traditional media, newspapers, television and radio.

Just the radical kind of change I want to see, so I called the chief and left him a message about the PIO's rejection. I also sent him emails, copied to the PIO, summing my situation, and then made several calls to the PIO.

Yes, several calls were necessary, due to the very unfriendly officers staffing the PIO phones, who go out of their way to give callers the bum's rush and as little info as possible. Not the best way to run public affairs office. Finally, a PIO staffer called back to confirm they received my emails.

I created a listserv of SF sunshine advocates, old media types and politicians, sharing my emails, and quickly learned that two publications, the Bay Times and the Bay Guardian, also had major hassles acquiring press passes and getting a run-around from the PIO. Did I mention the PIO ain't user-friendly?

There are many other problems and hurdles a blogger or a reporter or a member of the general public must deal with in trying to get even basic info out of the PIO, and I will bring them to the attention of the police commission in the next few weeks.

Last night, after I had been assured by an officer answering the chief's phone yesterday that he wouldn't be calling or emailing me, the chief did exactly that. From the chief:

Mike, I'm having my staff review your request. We will get back to you by early next week.

Take care.
George Gascon.

A small note, but it promises great and large improvements in not just how the PIO of the SF Police Department will henceforth deal with the press, bloggers and the public, and, how the department learns to better cooperate with the citizens who are the force's bosses. Let me also express gratitude to the Sunshine Posse and reporters who've supported me in this matter, and for also working on their own to bring the PIO into the modern tech age.

Hey, Chief Gascon, thanks much for looking into my denial of a press ID and I look forward to meeting you at the police commission meeting.

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