The Police Officers Association and The City are expected to finalize an agreement that would allow police officers to review body camera footage after providing an initial statement. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

Officers can review body camera footage after initial statements, under proposed policy

San Francisco police officers will only be allowed to review body camera footage following critical incidents after making an initial statement, according to an agreement between The City and the police union.

The often contentious policies in question, which are expected to be reviewed and finalized by the Police Commission on Wednesday night, will govern how The City’s more than 2,000 police officers will use the body-worn cameras set to be issued by the end of the year.

“I think it’s a substantive change,” said Commissioner Victor Hwang, who thought the union and The City had all but come to an agreement on the policy back in December.

One of the key sticking points over the use of body cameras by San Francisco police has been whether officers can look at the footage before making statements in critical incidents like shootings.

In December, the commission altered the proposed policy and gave the police chief discretion over when officers would be allowed to review footage, with the understanding that the chief reports to the police commission.

But the latest iteration of the policy has removed that language. The new policy allows officers to view footage after they have been interviewed.

New policy
According to the draft policy, officers may view footage while “preparing an incident report, preparing statements, conducting a follow-up investigation, or providing testimony.”

Officers may not view footage in certain instances, including when they are under investigation or involved in a shooting, a criminal matter or an in-custody death.

In such cases, officers “shall be required to provide an initial statement before he or she reviews any audio or video recording. The initial statement by the subject officer shall briefly summarize the actions that the officer was engaged in, the actions that required the use of force, and the officer’s response,” according to the draft policy.

After the initial statement, officers can view the footage and provide a supplemental statement.

Reaction
The policy changes have been backed by the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association, which had been in negotiations with The City until now. Initially, the union argued officers should be able to view footage before making statements.

“This past week, the Police Officers’ Association worked closely with the new chief and the Mayor’s office to agree on the final details of the proposed policy, and we have jointly submitted our agreed-upon version to the Police Commission for approval,” POA President Martin Halloran said in a statement.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said he was mostly happy with the compromise, with a few exceptions.

“It’s a positive step forward that there is agreement on the bulk of the policy,” Adachi said in a phone call.

Still, eyewitness experts say it’s a mistake to allow officers to veiw camera footage before writing reports, according to Adachi. When someone sees another source of information, he said, it impacts their memory.

Adachi also said the exceptions barring officers from viewing the footage should initially be expanded to instances that are potentially criminal or those that involve use of force.

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