Chris Zapata

Nov 122013

This letter was published by the San Leandro Times on Nov. 7, 2013


Chief of Police Sandra Spagnoli is out of control. Endangering the lives of children by canceling the crossing guards at the Safe Streets Halloween event is only her latest stunt. Previous examples include using department resources to unlawfully lobby the City Council, falsely arresting people for sex crimes and eliminating Internal Affairs.

The Chief also has the habit of providing the City Council with false information, what City Manager Chris Zapata labels “mis-speaking.”  The Chief, for example, told the Council that the SLPD needed to search the backyards of chicken owners’ homes without a warrant because they get an average of one complaint a week about chickens.  A public records search showed just a single complaint filed in the last two years.

The Chief also “mis-spoke” about the number of license plate scanners the Department has (5, not 3), the dangers of over-pollination (none outside strawberry greenhouses), the effects of medical marijuana dispensaries on crime (none) and the effectiveness of surveillance cameras in reducing and solving crimes (very low to none). Just last week, she blamed the increase in crime in San Leandro to prisoners being released early due to realignment; trouble is, law enforcement data shows there have been no such early releases.

“Mis-speaking” to the City Council and lobbying during work hours show a lack of respect for the Mayor and Council members and for the democratic process itself. It’s up to City Manager Zapata to hold her accountable and assure she behaves legally and ethically in her job. The fact that he has failed to do so suggests he lacks the leadership skills necessary for his own position.

The City Council should keep this in mind as they evaluate Zapata’s performance in the upcoming months.

Margarita LacabeSan Leandro

Update: On this week San Leandro Times, POA President Isaac Benabou not-quite-responds to my letter by praising his boss, Chief Sandra Spagnoli, and accusing me of “misleading” readers.  Alas, he does not substantiate his allegation and the only factual assertion he makes in disagreement with my letter, that surveillance cameras “greatly assist” in preventing and solving crimes is wrong.  I call on Mr. Benabou to explain his allegations or otherwise apologize.  Here is his letter: 


This is a reply to last week’s letter to the editor “Accuses Police Chief of Being ‘Out of Control’,” Letters, Nov. 7.”

I am writing this letter to the editor as the voice for the San Leandro Police Officer’s Association. This is my first correspondence to the San Leandro Times as the POA President.

Each week I make a point to read every letter sent to the editor with specific interest in articles that pertain to the Police Department. From time to time there are misleading letters written and published and often by the same author.

In last week’s letter to the editor, the writer expressed her disapproval our of City’s Police Chief and City Manager. There are more to her dislikes for these officials than were mentioned in her letter and my professionalism acts as a barrier to my emotions.

There comes a time when enough is enough! As a 20-year employee of this agency, I’ve never seen so many positive changes and improvements than I have seen in the past three years. A Professional Standards Unit, Chief’s Advisory Board and the creation and implementation of United for Safety is just the beginning.

We have embraced technology by joining facebook, twitter, Nixel, and creating an easy-to-use SLPD Smartphone application, all in an attempt to be more transparent with the community. Yes, technology includes surveillance cameras and license plate readers which both greatly assist in solving and preventing crime.

These are just a few programs implemented over the past three years, all accomplished under the current Police Administration led by Chief Sandra Spagnoli.

So, to the fair and impartial readers out there, please take with a grain of salt the comments and accusations expressed in last week’s letter and know that every hard working member of my organization is committed to the safety and service of the citizens of San Leandro.

— Isaac BenabouPresident




Oct 292013
Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Dear City of Oakland:

I know you are looking for a new Police Chief.  Please take ours!  SLPD Chief Sandra Spagnoli doesn’t work cheap  and crime may have gone up under her, but she speaks well and smiles enough.  Surely appearances do count.  She fooled us, she can fool your residents as well.

Spagnoli is a hard worker (sure, she has about 90 days off a year, in addition to weekends, but that’s standard for public executives) and has an unmitigated commitment to social cleansing. She doesn’t discriminate between gays, the mentally illblacks, liberals or even gun-advocates – in her book everyone is a criminal that needs to be put down.  Dirty cops, however, are to be left alone – at least until they are so overt in their dealings that citizens end up alerting the Mayor and the DA.    But if you want your racial tensions – in particular those between blacks and Asians – to rise, she has a recipe for that!

One teenzy weenzy little problem with Spagnoli is that she’s not particularly married to facts.  I mean she loves facts, as long as she gets to invent them, but independently gathered and confirmed facts are nasty things that get in the way of actual police work.  Police Chiefs’ opinions should be trusted without question, and if reality interferes with your trust, then you really should disavow reality.

Take for example her claim that crime rates have gone up in San Leandro because of the release of prisoners due to re-alignment.  It’s a good story, one that she can use to get surveillance cameras that she can use to spy on troublemakers (aka community activists), so why should the fact that there has been no early release of prisoners stop her from telling it?  Or take her opinion that marijuana is a gateway drug and that marijuana dispensaries attract crime – sure, the studies that look at the actual data show that those are myths, but shouldn’t her intuition count for more than pesky studies?  Her latest kick is surveillance cameras.  She knows in her gut that they work and we should believe her despite all the data that shows that they neither prevent nor help solve crimes.

You should also not hold it against her that she often makes false statements to the City Council.  It’s not as if the Council would rely on what she says in order to pass the ordinances she advocates, right?  For example, can we really blame her for telling the Council her office received one complaint a week about backyard chickens, when in reality they only have records about one complaint being filed in the last two years?  She needed the Council to have a good excuse to give the Police access to people’s backyards without probable cause in violation of the 4th amendment, so can she be blamed for a little white lie?  And why does the Council need to know exactly how many license plate cameras the Police Department has? So what if it’s 5 rather than the 3 she acknowledged? They’re both single digits, right?

Look, our City Manager, Chris Zapata, is perfectly OK with her “truth impairment” as is our Mayor, Stephen Cassidy.  Surely the Oakland City Council and Mayor Quan won’t have higher standards than their San Leandro equivalents.

There are many more things that you can praise Sandra Spagnoli for.  She has no patience for street musicians or artists – if you want someone to intimidate your budding arts community, she’s the woman for you.   And she has pretty much eliminated all complaints against SLPD officers.  Sure, she did it by getting rid of the Internal Affairs Department, but the non-numbers of complaints speak for themselves.   Finally, she is so committed to her law enforcement job, that she doesn’t let the law stand on her way.  Really, do you want a Police Officer who respects the law or someone who catches others not doing it?

So in my name and in that of many, many, many other citizens of San Leandro, I ask you, I plead with you, I beg you to hire her and get her off our hands.


Margarita Lacabe

PS I forgot to mention that Chief Spagnoli is already very experienced with the Oakland crime problem. Indeed, when she’s not blaming realignment for San Leandro’s crime problem, she’s blaming Oakland. She already has a plan to put surveillance cameras aimed at the Oakland border to know which of your miscreant citizens dare to come into our town.

Spagnoli also has a plan to deal with youth crime: eliminate youth. She tried to put it into effect on Halloween when, after promising crossing guards for a Trick-or-Treat events put out by local businesses, she prohibited them at the last minute. Unfortunately for the Chief, nobody got killed, but I know she won’t let that deter her from finding ways to endanger kids’ lives n the future.

Sep 052013
Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

But will the Council and City Manager let her get away with it?

Tuesday night, San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli was caught lying to the San Leandro City Council several times.

Two lies are so blatant, that there can be now wiggle room around them.

1 – She told the City Council that the SLPD only has one police car equipped with license plate scanners mounted on them.  But as Mike Katz-Lacabe, my husband pointed out, it has 3.  He’s taken pictures of them, in case there are any questions.

2- She told the Council that license plate scanners only get the “photo of the license plate”.  Again, a lie, as the license plate picture below shows.

Now, these are by no means the first lies the Chief tells the Council.  She’s lied about the effects of marijuana dispensary on crime and she lied about how long license plate information is kept for, for example.

And as Councilmember Jim Prola pointed out when I brought this matter up to him, last night she repeatedly tried to mislead the Council (Prola wouldn’t commit to using the word “lie”) when she claimed that license plate data had to be retained for a year because they are sharing it with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (everyone who drives in San Leandro is a suspected terrorist, it would seem).  Under questioning by Prola, the representative from the Center reluctantly admitted the Council could set whatever term in wanted for keeping the data.

And she’s lied directly to the community about things such as how realignment works.

But the thing about these two lies last night is that there is no room for ambiguity.  Either license scanners only take pictures of the license plates as she claims or they don’t, as the picture shows.  Either there is one car with a scanner or there are three, as the other photos we have show.

The City Council knows now without a shadow of a doubt the the Chief of Police has so little respect for them that she will lie and lie to their faces.  Meanwhile, she asks them to “trust her”.

Mayor Cassidy wanted to see one of the “audits” on the Police Department, done after an SLPD narcotics officer was convicted of selling drugs to an informer.  The Chief  denied him access to it, claiming it has sensitive information.   “You have to trust on your Chief of Police” she said.  But how can the Council – and the citizens of San Leandro – trust a Chief who has repeatedly been caught lying?

I don’t have much admiration four our City Council.  But do any of them have any self-respect?  They must know the Chief doesn’t have any for them – otherwise she wouldn’t lie – and yet they let her get away with this type of behavior.

I have a call to the office of City Manager Chris Zapata for comments.  Zapata is ultimately her boss.  Is she lying with his knowledge? His approval? Is she completely insubordinate?

I have also contacted the Mayor and City Council for comment.  I will update this article if I hear back.

Photo of my family, car and home taken by an SLPD license plate scanner and obtained through a CPRA request.


Jul 102013

watimesheadlinesLast year, City Manager Chris Zapata abrogated his responsibilities for running much of the city by giving carte blanche to the Police Chief to set public policy both for her department, and the City. Now, he has decided to become the Chief’s propaganda minister.

In today’s City Manager Bulletin, Zapata direct readers to an article praising the use of surveillance cameras that appeared in the Washington Times.  As I’m sure he knows, the Washington Times is a Moonie (as in Rev. Moon’s church) owned newspaper, founded with the expressed goal of disseminating Moonie and far-right propaganda.  In comparison to the Washington Times, Fox News can actually make a case for being “fair and balanced”.

That said, it perhaps should not surprise us that Spagnoli and Zapata would look at the arch-conservative Washington Times for support with their own arch-conservative public policy.  The Times position on gay-rights (against them) seem consistent with the anti-gay policies that have gotten the SLPD sued; but they are not positions that reflect a majority of San Leandrans.

Meanwhile, in the last couple of weeks there has been a plethora of newspaper articles, by trustworthy publications, on how police surveillance of individuals violates basic civil liberties.  Several of those articles, including one by the San Francisco Chronicle and one by the Oakland Tribune, referenced San Leandro.  As you would expect, neither was mentioned in Zapata’s weekly bulletin.

I don’t expect much of our current City Council.  Neither Mayor Cassidy nor City Council members Michael Gregory, Ursula Reed, Benny Lee, Diana Souza and Pauline Cutter have much of a backbone, but 2014 is around the corner.

Jun 102013
A scene from the movie "Flowers in the Attic." The SLPD considers the book to be "child pornography".

A scene from the movie “Flowers in the Attic.” The SLPD considers the book to be “child pornography”.

An Open Letter to Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Dear Chief Spagnoli:

You have requested that the public alert you about “similar incidents” to those concerning the charges for child pornography filed against SLHS teacher Rick Styner.

According to court documents, as reported by the media, these charges arise from “more than 200 pornographic stories” found on his computer,  including one about a 14-year-old girl having sex with her brother, reportedly accompanied by the naked picture of a girl that looked to be underage.

The story mentioned in court records sounds very much like “Flowers In The Attic
“, the best seller by V. C. Andrews.  The novel – which was made into a very bad movie
– concerns four siblings that are raised hidden in an attic and repeatedly abused.  As the children enter puberty, the older siblings start to develop sexual feelings for one another, and they consummate that relationship when the girl is 14 years old.
I have checked the San Leandro library catalog, and it would seem that the library does have multiple copies of this “pornographic story”.  It would thus seem prudent that the SLPD get warrants to search the homes and computers of all library personnel responsible for distributing such “child pornography”.

“Flowers in the Attic” has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and it’s a favorite among teenage readers.  It would therefore seems likely that the book is also present in San Leandro school libraries and English classrooms. The SLPD should not take any chances and start investigations into all SLUSD librarians and English-language teachers.  Perhaps the SLPD should get a court order to have and other booksellers disclose the identity of everyone in the city that has bought a copy of this “pornographic” novel, so the investigation can become even more inclusive.   Who knows what other untold crimes people who read this story may be committing?

Of course, I understand that the problem is not only this “pornographic story” in Mr. Styner’s computer, but the fact that it was illustrated with a picture of someone who appeared to be underage.  While there may be a question about the age of the model in that photograph, there is no question that actress Thora Birch was only 16 when she appeared nude in the Oscar winning film American Beauty.  The main library, and undoubtedly hundreds of San Leandrans, have a copy of this movie and thus, according to SLPD standards, seem to be in possession of “child pornography.”

As you probably also know, when I wrote my article on the Styner investigation, I linked to pictures of Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby
– a movie in which she appeared nude when she was barely 12 years old.  Not only should the SLPD thus be able to arrest me, but everyone who read my story and clicked on the link.  I should be able to provide for the Chief the IP addresses of everyone in that situation.  Will arrest warrants follow?

Thank you, once again, for your commitment to keep San Leandro free of any real crime.  I support your crusade to clean the bookshelves of San Leandro’s citizens.  It’s definitely a much more important endeavor than paying attention to pesky little things like robberies, actual burglaries, domestic violence and, the peskier of them all, corruption and misconduct within your own department.


Margarita Lacabe

This letter was e-mailed to Chief Sandra Spagnoli and copied to Mayor Stephen Cassidy, the other members of the City Council, City Manager Chris Zapata, Assistant City Manager Lianne Marshall and City Attorney Richard Pio Roda.