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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

SF Cops Will Finally Get Body Cameras in August

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 11:36 AM

  • Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner file photo
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San Francisco police are taking another step towards 21st-century policing — sixteen years into the millennium — after coming to an agreement on using body cameras late Tuesday.

Police in San Francisco will equipped with body cameras — standard equipment in many police jurisdictions across the country, but not in the tech capital of Silicon Valley — by August 1, after police and the police officers' union compromised on how and when cops can view footage from their cameras following incidents. 

Mayor Ed Lee also pledged extra cash from the upcoming $9.6 billion annual city budget to equip every patrol officer with cameras. So what took so long?

It was always a matter of when — and not if — body cameras would come to San Francsico, but the department and Police Officers Association had until now been arguing for the ability to review footage before statements were taken from officers and reports were filed.

The union has backed off on that position and instead agreed that officers can only view footage after providing an initial statement about the incident.

The POA contended that officers’ memories might be foggy following stressful situations and that reviewing the footage before making statements or filing reports would provide the most accurate accounting for all parties. Which is to say it would allow police to get their ducks in a row, according to critics.

The Police Commission is expected to approve the policy at its meeting tonight.

Lee said Tuesday that officers should be wearing cameras within 60 days of a final vote.

“This is originally what the ACLU wanted when we were in working groups,” said POA President Martin Halloran, who said the union is giving the ACLU, Office of Citizen Complaints, and Public Defender’s Office what it initially asked for.

“They wanted a state-of-mind statement prior to the members viewing the video,” he said. “I wasn’t completely sold on that, but since that time, we have spoken to experts in the field and we decided that this will be more transparent and will allow officers to view these videos before they’re in a full-blown interview.”

But Catherine Wagner of the ACLU of Southern California questioned whether the initial statement would be thorough enough to give an accurate accounting of an incident without the officer then watching the video and putting the real story down on paper.

“I think what you would want is to essentially take an officer’s statement, a full statement, about what they remember of the incident, and then watching the body camera footage and providing additional commentary should be extra,” Wagner told the Chronicle. “The initial statement shouldn’t be so bare-bones that they’re waiting to watch the footage to flesh out information that should be in their memory.”

Acting Chief Toney Chaplin, who took over for Greg Suhr just weeks ago after another fatal officer-involved shooting, said his department is on board with the camera policy.
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