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SF mayor won’t fund body cameras in scandal-ridden county jail

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Sheriff Mirkarimi is shown here with an example of a body camera. Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
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Less than four months after an investigation revealed jail guards allegedly pitted inmates against one another in staged fights, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has refused to help pay for body cameras in The City’s jails — despite giving millions to fund police body cameras.

“Not funding cameras … for our deputies subverts our mission in improving safety, accountability and transparency,” Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi told the San Francisco Examiner on Monday.

Specifically, Mirkarimi asked for $242,000 to help pay for body cameras for all his deputies. But Lee denied that request while giving the police $6.6 million to equip 1,800 police officers with cameras over the next two years.

“The mayor is proud of the budget he submitted to the Board of Supervisors. It is a budget that prioritizes public safety across the board,” noted Christine Falvey, a spokesperson for Lee’s office.

Falvey pointed out that the sheriff’s budget increased by roughly $11 million to pay for staffing and additional equipment. That money includes funds for the requested replacement of the security electronic system in two county jail facilities, and for surveillance cameras in the jails.

The mayor also refused to help fund a district attorney task force which in part was set up to investigate the allegations of fighting in the jails.

Before Lee and police chief Greg Suhr announced April 30 that police officers will be given body cameras, Mirkarimi made his own similar announcement April 21 about his plans for body cameras in the jails. Now Mirkarimi’s plans may be stalled or ratcheted down.

Both announcements came shortly after a raft of law enforcement scandals that have reduced 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 with other officers.

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.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office exposed the alleged jail fights and who has backed cameras in the jail, said he is disappointed the mayor will not fund cameras in the jails.

“The Sheriff’s Department is woefully behind on camera technology. When our clients reported being forced to fight by deputies, we discovered there are large areas of the jail that simply don’t have security cameras. It was shocking to realize the average liquor store has a more comprehensive surveillance system than our county jail,” said Adachi in a statement to The San Francisco Examiner.

Adachi added that the “body cameras provide increased protection for both civilians and law enforcement. County jail inmates have reported egregious abuse, including beatings, sexual assaults, and daily threats.”

While Mirkarimi requested $242,000 for the cameras, the initial cost for a pilot camera program will come from $50,000 in discretionary funds he said.

That $50,000 will pay for a 30-camera pilot program, to be used during both shifts at the jail. The requested $242,000 would have paid for about 135 cameras over two years, said Mirkarimi.

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