Public-safety reform package includes body cams for SF cops, but no date announced 

click to enlarge An example of one of the body cameras which may soon be used by SFPD is shown here. - MIKE KOOZMIN/SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner
  • An example of one of the body cameras which may soon be used by SFPD is shown here.
City leaders announced Thursday a package of law enforcement reforms — including body cameras for police — in response to declining public trust in San Francisco’s law enforcement.

The announcement comes on the heels of several law enforcement scandals coupled with a national focus around policing and race.

“We have learned from around the country, and we are responding to our residents’ requests,” Supervisor Malia Cohen said Thursday. “Investment in body cameras for our police force, and providing additional resources for [oversight] ... are proactive and measured steps towards strengthening community trust in the police.”

The City’s reaction to calls for reform comes at a time of increased focus on police practices amid riots in Baltimore after a black man who was in police custody died.

Recently, The City’s law enforcement faced a series of scandals that eroded public trust. First came the conviction of several police officers in a federal corruption trial in December. Then came revelations that a handful of officers, including Ian Furminger — one of the convicted officers — had exchanged a series of bigoted text messages. In addition, in March, an investigation launched by the Public Defender’s Office exposed an alleged ring of sheriff’s deputies who staged fights between County Jail inmates.

Thursday’s announcement of a nearly $30 million allotment to public safety won’t thrill everyone. At a meeting at City Hall last week, a group of homeless advocates and social-service providers criticized the anticipated increase in funding for more police, arguing it will mean less money for social services.

Critics aside, the announcement was characterized by Mayor Ed Lee, the police chief and others as a step forward for transparency and police accountability. The City’s next two-year budget, Lee said, will include $6.6 million to equip 1,800 officers with cameras. The budget will also include $21.3 million for two additional academy classes, bringing the department's planned classes to five. The 250 officers to come out of these classes will bring The City's back to its mandate of 1,971 officers by 2017. Additionally, the Office of Citizen Complaints will receive another $725,000 for four additional personnel.

No concrete date was given for when the cameras will be on the street, since policies governing everything from data use, storage and privacy have yet to be finalized.

The department has been working on such policies for a pilot program for months, said Cmdr. Bob Moser, who is in charge implementing the program. In January, when the department presented the status of its yet-to-be-implemented body camera pilot program, Suhr cautioned the cost could be far too high to equip the whole department.

In its latest journal, the Police Officers’ Association voiced support for the program.

“The SFPD has reached out to the POA regarding the use of body-worn cameras,” POA President Martin Halloran wrote. “Both parties have met and we have crafted a working draft policy that will eventually be used for a pilot program of body-worn cameras on SFPD members. This is by far the most sensible and practical way to initiate a new program that right now is in its infancy.”

Supervisor David Campos said he supports the use of body cameras, but cautioned that cameras alone will not make police accountable. “We need systemic reform, including changes to the way we recruit, train and discipline officers,” Campos said.

Still, others questioned why it has taken so long and why such funds weren’t given to other law enforcement personnel too. On Wednesday, District Attorney George Gascon asked at a public event why the Police Department still hadn’t started its body camera pilot program, when it had started talking about it a year ago.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who announced several weeks ago his department is moving forward with body cameras, said Thursday his requests — two years running — for funding from the mayor for body cameras haven’t been answered.

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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