Mayor Lee Proposes Funding SFPD Body-Mounted Cameras

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee today proposed equipping police officers with body-mounted cameras, among other public safety reforms including the hiring of 250 new police officers and fully funding the city agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of improper police conduct.

Lee, with the support of San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr, various members of the Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Police Commission, proposed $6.6 million over the next two years to equip police officers with body-mounted cameras.

The mayor also proposed $22.3 million allotted in that same two-year period for the 250 new officers, allowing the Police Department to meet its mandatory staffing requirement of 1,971 officers by June 2017.

Lee also said the requested budget of the San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints will be fully funded, ensuring that the public’s concerns with specific officers are addressed in a timely manner.

The OCC, an independent investigative agency that is separate from the Police Department, was created by a voter-initiated charter amendment in 1983 and reports to the San Francisco Police Commission.

Lee said the funding will enable the OCC to hire a new investigator, a senior investigator, an attorney and a technician assistant.

According to Suzy Loftus, the president of the San Francisco Police Commission, the commission will focus on creating a task force to come up with a policy surrounding the use of body-mounted cameras while the Police Department will be in charge of procuring the cameras.

Loftus said there are many questions regarding the cameras, such as when they are turned on and off, who has access to view the footage, and various issues surrounding citizens’ rights to privacy.

According to Loftus, the Los Angeles Police Department took about 18 months to come up with policies, procure the necessary hardware and software needed to use their body-mounted cameras.

Loftus said she anticipates that the roughly 1,800 San Francisco police officers who have direct contact with the public will be wearing the technology in less than a year and a half.

The use of body-mounted cameras in other cities has resulted in a reduction of the use of force by officers, de-escalation and a reduced number of complaints against officers, according to Loftus.

The Police Department has already procured a number of the cameras, including one that was exhibited on San Francisco police Sgt. Tad Yamaguchi at a news conference this morning.

Yamaguchi wore the little black device, which is slightly smaller than a cellphone and manufactured by Taser International Inc., in the center of his chest, clipped securely to his button-up shirt.

Lee said the cameras are necessary, particularly when lives are lost, such as in recent cases in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

He said that while the technology would help gather data and deter bad behavior, it is not the only solution. Lee said officers also need mandatory training on implicit bias.

Suhr said he believes the proposed budget items reflect the priorities of the city and echo President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, as well as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s recent call for body cameras on all law enforcement officials nationwide.

The presidential task force’s March report suggested that law enforcement strive to engender public trust by treating people with dignity and respect, giving individuals a voice during encounters, being neutral and transparent in decision making and conveying trustworthy motives.

Suhr said wearing body-mounted cameras is a win-win situation that protects good citizens and good officers.

“The officers know they’re wearing them so their behavior is going to be better and by telling the citizens that they’re going to be on camera, then the citizens are going to behave better too,” Suhr said.

Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the Bayview District, said today that cameras are a small step in the right direction, but that bias training for officers and racial equality in the justice system is equally important.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi announced last week that San Francisco sheriff’s deputies working as jail guards in San Francisco County Jail No. 4 at the Hall of Justice may be the first county jail guards in California to wear body-worn cameras.

Mirkarimi held a separate news conference today where he showed off a sample body-mounted camera and explained that the mayor has ignored his requests for two years for city government approval of and funding for body-mounted cameras.

He said allegations that four sheriff’s deputies forced jail inmates to fight gladiator-style and bet on the results, as well as a recent inmate escape, has forced him to move forward without the mayor’s support.

Mirkarimi said he anticipates policies to be created and body-mounted camera equipment to be worn by deputies in that jail within three months.

He said the technology is “the wave of the future” and should not be limited to police on patrol.

Incarcerated citizens are not allowed to walk around with cellphones and so are, unlike the general public, unable to capture deputies’ misconduct on video, Mirkarimi said.

Despite what the sheriff said was the understaffing of his office, he said he has managed to apply $50,000 from the office’s materials and supplies funds to be able to acquire the cameras for the pilot program. He said his office would initially be able to purchase 30 cameras, but that storage and maintenance costs are likely to be very expensive and that support from the city is needed.

In a letter to the mayor’s office written by Mirkarimi last week, he requested roughly $233,000 in funding for the cameras over the next two years to provide 120 body cameras and services needed to digitally store recorded evidence.

The legal team at the sheriff’s office in conjunction with the city attorney’s office will handle protocol and policies surrounding the cameras, Mirkarimi said.

Mirkarimi said that while he is pleased that body-mounted cameras are finally getting the attention they deserve in San Francisco and across the country, they alone are not a panacea.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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