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Still Snoopin' 

Wednesday, Dec 20 2006
You might remember "Cops Who Spy," a story we published in September revealing the details of a secret probe conducted by the San Francisco Police Department. During that police investigation, which sprouted from 2003's Fajitagate scandal, detectives collected and studied the phone records of local journalists — because we, and not cops who beat people up for their takeout, are the ones menacing the citizenry.

In a bid to discover who within the department was leaking embarrassing memos about rookie cop Alex Fagan Jr. — the pugilistic son of then-assistant chief Alex Fagan — the detectives scrutinized more than 2,400 phone calls made to and from reporters working in the press room at the Hall of Justice, among them journalists with the San Francisco Chronicle, Bay City News Service, KRON (Channel 4), KTVU (Channel 2), ABC (Channel 7), and KGO-AM 810 (but not SF Weekly).

No one was as surprised as we were to find that the police department didn't particularly like the story. Shortly after it ran, Deputy Chief Morris Tabak, the cop at the center of the controversy, unleashed on SF Weekly, saying during a public meeting: "The article grossly misrepresented the facts surrounding this criminal investigation. ... It is flawed and inaccurate and does not provide a balanced perspective, and does a huge disservice to this police department and the city it serves."

(Dang. That's harsh. By the way, SF Weekly stands by the story.)

Now it seems Tabak is under the microscope again. Several sources at the Hall of Justice say the Office of Citizen Complaints, the city's police watchdog agency, is investigating Tabak and the phone-snooping probe. The office's findings can lead to punishments ranging from a written reprimand to expulsion from the force. By law, the OCC can't discuss ongoing cases, but we understand the agency has contacted several people about the matter.

Meanwhile, over at the gilded dome, local pols are also discussing the issue. On Dec. 5, Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval introduced legislation that would bar the SFPD from pulling the stunt again. "The police department is a strong institution," he said. "It doesn't need to go snooping around in this manner to get the bad guys." The Supe expects his ordinance to come up for a vote in early 2007. Until then, we recommend journalists get cozy with their cellphones.

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