Sandra Spagnoli

Sandra Spagnoli is the Chief of the San Leandro Police Department. She was hired and started working in January 2011, after the City of San Leandro settled a lawsuit brought by female police officers for sexual harassment and discrimination.

Spagnoli at first gave indications that she would use “best practices” in the running of the police department. She reorganized the department and created new policies. She also appeared to reach out to the community with frequent “Coffee with the cops”.

It soon became evident, however, that Spagnoli’s attitude towards crime in San Leandro was one of “everybody is a suspect and everybody should be treated as one”. The SLPD has become less and less transparent under her rule. She has interfered in the city’s politics, both by trying to organize lobbying of the City Council during work hours and using public resources, and by seemingly interfering with city elections (during the 2012 campaign she failed to investigate a leak of a warrant against a candidate, and chose to run a press release about a suspect with the same last name than that same candidate during election day). Spagnoli has also gotten in trouble for issuing press releases falsely accusing people of crimes they did not commit. The City of San Leandro recently settled a lawsuit based on a “sting” she authorized to try to catch homosexual men soliciting sex in public. In June 2012 the SLPD issued a press release accusing a respect High School teacher of possessing child pornography, which seems to be a complete fabrication.

Spagnoli has also earned the dislike of community members for trying to restrict bee-keeping citing the made-up danger of “over pollination”, providing false information to the City Council about the “dangers” of marijuana dispensaries and trying to place surveillance cameras throughout town without alerting the community.

She makes it a habit to provide the Council and the Community with false information. For example, she has repeatedly claimed that San Leandro’s rising clime is due to the early release of inmates due to re-alignment, when no such releases have happened. She told the City Council that the City only had one working license plate camera, with 2 about to be installed – when in reality it had 3 installed and 2 more on the works. She claimed that he department receives an average of one complain about chickens a week – when records show only one complain has been recorded in two years. We could go on.

Mar 032014

The San Leandro Police Department, and in particular Chief Sandra Spagnoli, have never quite understood the difference between pushing propaganda and outright lying.  So when Lt. Randy Brandt sent out this tweet:

in reference to this press release, I was suspicious.  So I tweeted back:

That same night I filed a California Public Records Act request for “any records of reports of “suspicious activities,” made by citizens in person, by phone, by text or through social or another media and received by the San Leandro Police Department on February 20th, 2014.”  Today, I got a reply from the City:

Dear Ms. Lacabe,

The San Leandro Police Department has no records responsive 
to your request as described below.  Your records request is 
now completed and closed.  Please contact me if you have any 
questions.  Thank you.

Vivian Chiu
Deputy City Clerk

Did Lt. Randy Brandt get carried away and figured this was just a white lie? Or is the Police Department so incompetent that it does not actually keep records of the calls they get? You be the judge.

Feb 062014
Emergency Services Director Renee Domingo speaking to the City Council

Emergency Services Director Renee Domingo speaking to the City Council

City employees in Oakland and San Leandro appear to live and work by the motto “it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”  While most city councils rubber stamp whatever proposals city staff puts before them – an easier task than actually reading and analyzing long and boring reports -, some proposals are so clearly contrary to the public benefit that they are not politically tenable for council members to knowingly pass.  In those situations, staff – most assuredly with the blessing of the City Manager/Administrator – may give the Council an “edited” version of the facts behind it.   Whether the purpose is to deceive council members or provide them with plausible deniability can be discerned by how the member react once the true facts are uncovered.

Oakland city staff’s quest to build the Domain Awareness Center (DAC), a facility that would centralize the feeds from hundreds of cameras and license plate readers throughout the City, is a perfect example of how this works.  Internal e-mails obtained through the California Public Records Act make it clear that the actual purpose of the DAC is to track and subvert the activities of political protesters and labor activists in the city and port of Oakland. However, in public meetings, both staff and Councilmembers have only referred to the alleged crime-fighting uses of the DAC.   Finally, at the last meeting of the Council’s  Public Safety Committee,  Emergency Services Director Renee Domingo, who has spearheaded Oakland’s DAC project, was forced to admit that there is no data showing that existing DACs in other cities have helped to either reduce or solve crimes.

While there might be some room for argument about whether misleading the Council as to the purpose for the DAC is actually “lying”, it is absolutely clear that Ms Domingo deceived the Council about Science Applications International (SAIC)the company that was hired to build the DAC.    SAIC is a large military contractor which, among other things, works in the development, building and deployment of nuclear weapons.  Under Oakland’s 1988 anti-nuclear ordinance, the City cannot award contracts to any company that is involved with nuclear weapons.   Internal e-mails show that Domingo was aware that this was a problem in February 2013, but she didn’t mention anything about it to the City Council and the Council indeed went on and hired SAIC to build the first phrase of the project.  According to Domingo, she first heard about SAIC’s non-compliance in August,when activists brought it up – but that’s contradicted by the e-mails alluded to above.

Domingo is now proposing that the Council contract with called Schneider Electric to build phase II of the DAC. A simple google search of “Schneider Electric” and “nuclear weapons” leads to marketing materials from the company where it describes one of its main applications a being “nuclear weapons handling systems.”  It’s still unknown whether Domingo failed to do her due diligence or just hoped that activists wouldn’t find out.

No member of the Oakland City Council has held staff accountable for deceiving  them and for having the City knowingly enter into a contract that violated the City’s own laws.  Councilmember Dan Kalb campaigned on “restoring trust in City Hall“, and yet he has meekly accepted staff’s unethical behavior seemingly without a second thought.   While Kalb is not for re-election, his colleague Libby Schaaf, who has also failed to question staff over their duplicity, is running for Mayor of Oakland.  Her “no need for accountability” attitude is echoed by incumbent Mayor Jean Quan.

Things are no better in San Leandro.  Chief of Police Sandra Spagnoli routinely gives the City Council information that she knows to be false.  She has lied about things as easy to verify as the number of license plate scanners the Department has and the effects of realignment in the City.  But she also gave the Council false information about marijuana, the number of complaints they get about chickens and the dangers of overpollination.  A few months ago, the City had to settle a lawsuit brought by men after the Chief issued a press release falsely accusing them of attempting to engage in public homosexual sex.

Not only does the Chief routinely lie to the City Council, but she has also broken the law.  In 2012, the Chief was caught using Police Department staff and resources to get citizens to lobby the City Council against a proposed marijuana dispensary.  That violates both the San Leandro Municipal Code and the California Government Code.  Though City Council members are well aware of the Chief’s unlawful attempt to manipulate the democratic process, they have not called her on it.  This year, both Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Councilmember Pauline Cutter are running for re-election.

The Chief is not the only “truth impaired” member of staff in San Leandro.  When City staff decided to change the Zoning Code as a tactic in a pending lawsuit, city they explained the change as being a “routine update of the code” and only acknowledged the actual motive behind it after citizens like me brought it up repeatedly at public meetings.  After the acknowledgement, Mayor Stephen Cassidy made some noise about being more open with the community in the future, but did not take staff to task for their repeated attempts at deception.

It’s difficult to know what we can do to restore ethics and accountability in City Hall – both in San Leandro and in Oakland.  Electing the right people has to be part of the solution, but candidates with integrity are few and far between.   My strategy – exposing bad behavior at City Hall -, has seldom been an impetus for change.  Is local democracy just broken and, if so, can it be fixed?

Dec 312013

Chief Sandra Spagnoli

San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli has kept mum for years about the arrest and conviction of SLPD officer Jason Fredriksson on charges of furnishing a pound of marijuana to a confidential informant, with whom he was having an affair, for her to sell.  Fredriksson was turned in by a family member of the informant.  The SLPD initially proved reluctant to investigate the charges, but the family member pressed on and Fredriksson was eventually arrested.  Despite solid evidence against him, the fact that he was involved with a CI and the amount of marijuana involved,  Fredriksson ultimately was given a slap-on-the-wrist deal that required him to serve no time in jail.

While police officers have said off-the-record that the marijuana found at the informer’s home was in bags marked SLPD, Chief Spagnoli has never acknowledged where the marijuana came from. Indeed, during a City Council meeting she mentioned that an audit had been done of their evidence-handling procedures, but she refused to let the Mayor or members of the City Council see the results.  As Fredriksson did not go to trial, none of the details of the case have been made public.

At a recent City Council meeting, however, Chief Sandra Spagnoli suggested that the marijuana did come from the evidence room.  “We found out that, during the arrest of officer Jason Fredriksson, there were oversight problems with the evidence room, and so what we did was use best practices, and we dedicated one individual to have the oversight and the correct training to monitor the evidence room, because it’s such a critical area.” 

Chief Spagnoli had only been on the job for five months when the Fredriksson case came about, so she cannot be faulted too much for a disorganized evidence room.  However, she can be faulted for the complete lack of transparency that she exhibits in the running of the Police Department.

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

San Leandro resident Cynthia Chandler posted this open letter today to Mayor Stephen Cassidy‘s Facebook page.   Ms Chandler is a professor of law at Golden Gate University.

As a survivor of violence and as a resident concerned with public safety and ensuring our city uses its resources wisely, I am concerned that Chief Spagnoli is engaging in hyperbole and misinformation to promote her personal agenda. I am writing to ask you to take action by ensuring police chiefs are not permitted to craft city ordinances (advise, but not craft).

Last night at the District 5 & 6 community meeting, Chief Spagnoli reiterated a false statement that I have heard her make before in public — that rising crime in San Leandro is due to early releases of prisoners. Yet, the department’s data presented at the meeting showed no statistically significant rise in crime (and burglary data was not even disaggregated for commercial burglary, which includes shoplifting). And California realignment law does not allow for early release of prisoners.

I asked the Chief if she could direct me to a law or reference supporting her claim of early releases occurring under realignment, because as an attorney I am familiar with criminal codes and policy. She sent me to the California Police Chief’s Association website and accused me of being a State propagandist, supporting the State’s laws and agenda. I thought as a peace officer that her job IS to enforce State law, not create her own. And when I went to that website, all links confirmed that there have been no, and there is no provision for, early releases.

The Chief made clear to me that she has her own personal agenda in conflict with State law. I also am concerned that she in intentionally working to boost fears among our community to build political support for her own agenda. This agenda was made clear in her inclusion into the recent chicken and bee policy of an arguably unconstitutional clause allowing for cause-less searches of permit holders yards, for any reason.

I moved to San Leandro because it offered a safe community. I want to make sure our resources are used wisely and impactfully. Consistent deference to police and the ever increase of the police budget’s portion of the general fund has contributed to our present lack of funding for roads, economic development, and fire also needed for safety. Allowing our codes to be constructed by any police chief presents a conflict of checks and balances over police power. Will you support an ordinance to control police powers by not allowing police to craft our ordinances?