San Francisco Police Department reviews paperwork on snitches 

The San Francisco Police Department’s use of confidential informants is under review.

Last Thursday, the day after allegations of illegal searches and seizures against six officers were made public and as gang tensions mounted in the Mission district, police station captains received a message on their department BlackBerrys to stop using confidential sources — known on the street as snitches — until further notice.

The directive came from the head of investigations, Cmdr. David Lazar, and was rescinded within an hour, according to interim police Chief Jeff Godown.

“It was an error,” he said. Lazar also acknowledged the mistake, calling it a “premature blast out.”

But before the order could be reversed, complaints rained down from captains. Capt. Greg Corrales was trying to stop retaliatory gang warfare in the Mission when the order came in.

It would have made police work nearly impossible, Corrales said.

The department announced that it will review its use of confidential informants this week and officers will receive additional training.

The use of confidential informants is a common but controversial practice. By nature, informants are often criminals themselves, making it difficult for police to trust them.

The reliance on informants was highlighted in two police reports that are now the subject of a misconduct investigation. In two drug busts at the Henry Hotel, officers seized heroin and crack cocaine. In each case, their informants proved to be extremely accurate.

But the timing of the review has nothing to do with the misconduct investigation, Godown said.

“Confidential informants are done on a daily basis and there are administrative issues,” Godown said. “We started looking into this months ago.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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Brent Begin

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