Body cams for SF cops, stalled for years, now given deadline 

click to enlarge SFPD Chief Greg Suhr has been given three months to come up with a draft policy for police body cameras. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • SFPD Chief Greg Suhr has been given three months to come up with a draft policy for police body cameras.
Mayor Ed Lee in April announced his plans to fund body cameras for all The City’s police officers, but gave no concrete date for when the cameras will be on the streets, since policies governing everything from data use, storage and privacy have yet to be finalized.

Now, the department has been given three months to come up with a draft policy, which some say is a quick change of course after a long-stalled process that has dragged on for years.

Last week, Police Commission President Suzy Loftus gave a clear directive to Chief Greg Suhr about when she wants a draft policy for the cameras: 90 days. “Yes, ma’am,” he said at the Police Commission meeting in an unusual show of deference to a body often deferential to the chief.

The Police Commission, charged with disciplining officers and creating policy for the department, has the final say on policy governing camera use.

Despite the quick movement on the policy, others say no such urgency was in the works before the mayor stepped in.

District Attorney George Gascon wrote Suhr and Lee on April 29 — the day before they announced the funds for the cameras — calling on them to immediately equip officers with cameras.

That same day, at a public event, Gascon said the roll out for the pilot program has been stalled for more than a year.

In August 2013, Suhr said he would start rolling out body cameras for police supervisors to be used in searches in response to corruption charges regarding searches of single-room-occupancy units. The plan, as Suhr said at the time, was to roll them out within a month to six weeks. At that point, the department had been vetting the cameras for a year already.

But Suhr warned, as he has subsequently, that people should not expect a speedy rollout for all officers. 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 in 2013.

That camera program never happened. Instead, the department kept working on its body camera policy.

But last month, Cmdr. Bob Moser, who is in charge implementing the camera program and, before that, the pilot program that never came to pass, told The San Francisco Examiner that the department had only been working on a camera policy for months, not years.

Funding for the body cameras will include money to pay for the cameras as part of a package of other criminal-justice reforms aimed at building public confidence in the police after a series of scandals. The City’s next two-year budget, Lee said, will include $6.6 million to equip 1,800 officers with cameras.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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