By Alex Emslie
A day after San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón called for all San Francisco police officers to wear body cameras by early next year, Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr announced an initiative that does exactly that.
Gascón sent a letter to Lee, Suhr and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Wednesday calling for all officers to be issued body-worn video cameras by the start of 2016, with footage from every arrest to be included with police reports, starting six months later.
“I’m hoping that the mayor and the board will take this to heart, and that we stop playing games,” Gascón said Wednesday at a meeting of city criminal justice officials to discuss racial disparities in law enforcement. “We have now been talking about cameras for the San Francisco Police Department for over a year, and yet we still don’t have them.”
Lee announced that he’ll propose $6.6 million in his budget to purchase 1,600 to 1,800 body-worn cameras over the next two years. He says that funding should cover software, data storage and additional staffing to maintain the program.
“This is a role for technology to be playing in allowing us to build more public trust and also transparency and accountability with our residents,” Lee said.
Several supervisors joined Lee at his announcement, including board President London Breed.
She said city leaders have an opportunity to dedicate funding “necessary to repair some of the damage that has been done with the public trust. I think we will be a better city as a result of this.”
Suhr, who for months has expressed concern about the cost of storing terrabytes of video data and responding to public records requests for footage, said he’d like to finalize policy governing the cameras “as soon as we can so that we get the cameras on the officers, to work on the trust that’s been damaged over the recent months in certain communities here in San Francisco.”
“It’s a win-win situation that protects good people from both sides of the lens,” Suhr said. “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 citizen’s going to behave better, too.”
Lee and Suhr are aiming to deploy cameras on every patrol officer by early 2016. Suhr said the process should definitely be completed within a year.
Last year, the department announced a $250,000 federal grant and camera pilot program in January 2014, but the pilot never launched. The department first accepted and then declined KQED’s request for an interview on the pilot.
“At this point our department still has not finalized any policy, still looking at best practices and developing protocol,” Officer Albie Esparza, department spokesman, wrote in an email last Friday.
The department refused to provide documents related to the bidding process or federal grant.