Gunshot detection system to expand for SF police; body camera program makes progress

mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photoSan Francisco will begin installing 35 ShotSpotter devices in the next two weeks in its effort to complete expansion of the gunshot detection program launched in 2008.

Amid mounting pressure for police to wear body-mounted cameras, a deputy chief said last week that a two-year pilot program outfitting officers with the devices can launch as soon The City's contracting office authorizes their purchase.

As officers in other neighboring police departments like Oakland have begun wearing body-mounted cameras and studies show they can be effective in reducing complaints and uses of force, San Francisco may seem a bit behind the times with new technology. But that's now slated to change.

On another technology front, a battle between The City and PG&E over the installation of gunshot detection devices on utility poles was resolved Friday. Supervisor David Campos, among others, had blasted the utility company for charging a $1,500-per-pole fee to install the equipment. After an agreement was reached for a fee of between $200 and $400, Campos dropped a resolution he had introduced calling for no fee and blaming PG&E for stalling an important crime-fighting strategy.

The ShotSpotter devices enable police to respond within minutes to the scene where a gunshot was detected.

The City plans to begin installing in the next two weeks 35 ShotSpotter devices, manufactured by Newark-based company SST, in its effort to complete expansion of the gunshot detection program launched in 2008.

“I am thankful that PG&E has agreed to move forward to expand this technology in more neighborhoods without charging an exorbitant amount,” Campos said.

As for the police body cameras, Deputy Police Chief Sharon Ferrigno said final authorization from the Office of Contract Administration to purchase the cameras is pending, but she is expecting it soon. Meanwhile, a policy for use of the devices is currently being reviewed by the City Attorney's Office.

Proponents of the cameras such as Public Defender Jeff Adachi and Joyce Hicks, executive director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, said they want to review the policy before it is voted on by the Police Commission.

“Governed by clear written policies, the OCC believes that body-worn cameras for police officers can create greater transparency, accountability, enhanced investigations of police misconduct and improved community police relations,” Hicks said.

Ferrigno said the department plans to purchase 165 cameras from Taser International with a $250,000 federal grant and have them distributed among the 10 district police stations. They would be worn by sergeants of plain-clothed units and investigation teams during such times as “pre-planned searches of a person, vehicle, or resident under conditions of probation searches, parole searches and the execution of a search warrant.”

She said that the cameras “may be activated during a consensual encounter,” in which an officer asks to speak to someone and the person agrees. The recordings would be stored for three years at, a recent startup tech company, and a new Taser division for digital storage.

Supporters of body-mounted cameras like Supervisor John Avalos, who has called for hearings on the subject, would ultimately like to see every police officer equipped with the devices. Ferrigno said the estimate to outfit the full force is $4 million annually.

“The benefits do surpass the financial cost. I hope we pursue this as quickly as possible,” Campos said. The supervisor believes the technology would reduce complaints against the department and provide other benefits including enhanced community trust.

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