SFPD chief threatens to investigate staff over alleged leak to press

Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin allegedly told his staff he would launch an internal investigation over a leak to the press about a recent federal report. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

In an apparently unusual move, Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin recently threatened to investigate San Francisco Police Department leadership over an alleged leak to the press, according to sources within the department.

The leak in question pertains to details of a federal Department of Justice review of the SFPD that was released to the public Oct. 12 by the Community Oriented Policing Services office and which painted the department in a negative light.

SFPD sources said Chaplin warned about 40 captains, commanders and deputy chiefs after a story containing details of the department’s review was published in the San Francisco Examiner ahead of the COPS report’s release. Chaplin reportedly told the group in the Public Safety Building on 3rd Street that the sources of the leak had 24 hours to confess or he would launch an internal investigation.

The department would not comment on whether an investigation has been launched or on the chief’s statement.

“I can’t confirm any of this and in accordance with state law, we wouldn’t comment on any personnel matters,” SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Michael Andraychak said in an email.

Former San Francisco Police Chief Anthony Ribera told the Examiner that leaks are part of the job and should generally not be given too much attention.

“I never made threats like, ‘I’m gonna get you,’” said Ribera, who led the department from 1992 to 1996. “I tried not to let stuff like that upset me.”

Ribera said his own approach to the media was one of openness.

“I think the thing that the head of any organization is challenged to do is to make sure the press has accurate information,” he said. “You do that by creating an atmosphere of transparency and talking to the media. The only way that they can get an accurate picture is if you’re accessible.”

Ribera said the only time he would have felt an investigation may have been warranted was if a leak comprised the integrity of an investigation, which never occurred during his tenure.

The last major probe into SFPD leaks to journalists came in 2003, following a leaked memo that detailed information about an incident in which three San Francisco police officers got into a drunken brawl on Union Street over a bag of fajitas in a highly publicized scandal that came to be known as “Fajitagate.” In that instance, police obtained phone records between then-San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken and department staff, according to a 2006 SF Weekly report.

Leanna Dawydiak, a former SFPD officer and one of the subjects of that probe, said her case is in many ways different than Chaplin’s investigation into a leak. But she does see some similarities.

“That sounds a little more fair than what happened to me,” Dawydiak said. “This doesn’t really surprise me as a method.”

Dawydiak warned that big organizations are always full of leaks and that trying to root them out can often lead to false allegations.

“I see that the department still hasn’t gotten a handle on people leaking stuff,” she said. “I guess they didn’t learn their lesson.”

Chaplin, who is vying to take permanent control of the department, was named acting chief by Mayor Ed Lee in May after former Chief Greg Suhr resigned in the wake of a fatal police shooting.

The three finalists for chief may be picked as early as Tuesday night in a closed meeting of the Police Commission, according to Commission President Suzy Loftus. Those candidates will then be forwarded to the mayor, who will choose the next chief.

Chaplin’s short tenure has been marked by relative calm for a department buffeted by scandals and police shootings, but there have been rumblings over his public image and his ability to effectively interact with members of the press and public.

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