The SFPD officers's wearing of body cameras would mean that "private person" would not have the expecation of privacy, when encountering law enforcement. MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER

The SFPD officers's wearing of body cameras would mean that "private person" would not have the expecation of privacy, when encountering law enforcement. MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER

Police body cameras may be an eye on cops, but public could lose privacy

The body cameras for San Francisco’s police officers may be on the way, and many are glad police will have an extra eye on their doings.

But those cameras may also be recording anyone who comes into contact with police, according to the San Francisco Police Department’s draft policy on camera use obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

“Private persons do not have an expectation of privacy when dealing with police officers performing their normal scope of lawful duty,” said the draft. Police “are not required to initiate or cease recording an event, situation or circumstance solely at the demand of a citizen.”

This part of the policy was the subject of much of the attention Wednesday when the advisory body writing the policy met. Members of the public, several on the policy board said, probably have not thought of the privacy aspect of the program.

“‘We don’t have to do what you ask us to do,’” said Human Rights Commission member Sheryl Davis about the public’s thoughts on consent. “People think all the time ‘I don’t want to be filmed.’”

Mayor Ed Lee announced in April he would give more than $6 million to equip the roughly 1,700 active police officers with cameras to increase public trust in police after a series of scandals that have marred their image.

The next step in the process is developing a policy that will govern the camera’s use.

America Civil Liberties Union of California policy attorney Matt Cagle — who has not read the draft — says no matter the policy, there must be a robust public debate before cameras are used and consequences for their misuse must be in place.

“It’s very important that there be real consequences for failure to follow this policy,” said Cagle, adding that such rules incentivize the proper use of the cameras and the accountability of police.

Thus far, the policy governs everything from when cameras must be turned on and off, to how long data will be stored and who will be able to access to it. But it is unclear on the consequences of failing to follow policy.

The cameras will not be on at all times, and officers will be responsible for turning the cameras on and off and must file a report justifying any digression from the rules.

“I think the continuous recording doesn’t serve anybody,” said policy board member and deputy public defender Rebecca Young, adding that cameras shouldn’t be recording “the wife, the kids, the dog.”

Commander Bob Moser, who oversees the body camera roll out, agreed, saying that continuous recording would be overkill. “You’re walking down the street, recording everything.”

Under the draft, officers will be required to turn on their cameras during arrests and detentions, when suspected criminal activity is underway, during traffic and pedestrian stops, and when serving search and arrests warrants. Officers have the discretion to activate cameras when they think recording may be valuable as evidence.

Officers cannot record during preliminary sexual assault or child abuse cases, when filming could compromise the identity of confidential sources, during strip searches and when people are exercising their First Amendment rights.

Cameras must be turned off during medical situations that could compromise patient privacy, during tactical discussions, in the police stations, and after being ordered to do so.

If misconduct is discovered in any review of footage, an officer must report it to a superior who then must then start an administrative investigation.

All footage will be uploaded at the end of each shift and retained for a year. In addition, all footage will be subject to law governing public records requests and discovery in criminal cases, along with other routine reviews of evidence.

Officers who fail to follow these rules will be punished in accordance with normal department disciplinary rules governing policy. The draft does not directly address what would specifically be done when officers don’t follow policy.

Footage can be reviewed by officers under the following circumstances: preparing incident reports and statements, and giving testimony. But officers cannot review tapes if they are being investigated in a shooting incident, criminal or administrative investigation or if the chief orders it.

Duplication and sharing of any data is barred under the draft, and accidental recording must be reported.


Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

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