Certain San Francisco police officers will be outfitted with video cameras on their chests when serving search warrants — a response to allegations of past illegal searches, said Police Chief Greg Suhr.
After a year of vetting the cameras, which will be worn over the uniform above the officer's sternum, the Police Department will roll them out in the "next month to six weeks," Suhr said.
The purpose of the cameras is to ensure there is "no question" that officers are following protocol when they either request to search a property or serve a warrant.
The police chief said the body cameras are a response to corruption charges regarding searches of single-room occupancy units.
In 2011, Public Defender Jeff Adachi came forward with video footage alleging that police were entering SROs without search warrants, then falsifying reports to justify those entries. The charges forced prosecutors to drop hundreds of cases and spawned a federal investigation that continues to this day.
"These cameras on supervisors on such entries are going to make that a moot point," Suhr said of the allegations.
The cameras will specifically capture what happens just before police enter a residence or, as Suhr put it, "right at the threshold."
Not every officer will have a camera. The devices, which cost $1,000 apiece, will only be worn by police supervisors, Suhr said.
There are no immediate plans to have officers wear the sternum cameras in other circumstances, although the police chief would not rule that out in the future.
"I believe that over time as everything gets cheaper, that's probably next-gen policing," Suhr said.
But doing so now would require both community vetting and changes to department policy, which Suhr said won't happen overnight.
"We are a long way away," he said.
Suhr said the cameras are proven to keep officers safer and reduce citizen complaints.
"It's clear that complaints of police brutality and other misconduct have been dramatically reduced in cities that have implemented body cameras on officers," the public defender said.
Adachi warned, however, that the cameras should be governed by strict privacy policies. He believes, for example, that footage from searches should not be released to the public or stored indefinitely.
Police in the Southern California city of Rialto have been using the cameras since February 2012, according to a report last week in The New York Times. Since then, there has been an 88 percent decline in complaints filed against officers and a 60 percent drop in use of force by police.