Viral video spawns petition calling for speed up of stalled SFPD body cameras

The long-delayed San Francisco Police Department body camera program is once again … delayed.

This time around the hold up is being called procedural by the department and the Police Commission. But others call the stalled process worrisome, especially after the detention in early August of a one-legged man on Market Street, which was caught on tape and widely publicized.

“Until the police department and the brass put forward the policy, it all appears to be lip service to appease all the criticism of their lack of transparency,” said Supervisor John Avalos.

Now, in the wake of the one-legged man’s Aug. 4 detention, nearly 35,000 people have signed a petition on “Please sign the petition to urge Mayor Ed Lee to speed up the process of giving all officers body cameras!” says the petition.

On May 6, Police Commission President  Suzy Loftus gave Police Chief Greg Suhr a 90-day deadline for the department to complete its draft policy on body cameras, which would pave the way for the program’s rollout.

But that deadline — Aug. 3 — has come and gone.

Now, the department will present its policy to the Police Commission on Sept. 2, more than a month after the deadline. The delay, says Loftus, was simply a way to give those working on the draft more time.

“In May, I asked the chief to convene a diverse working group to meet and prepare a draft body camera policy for consideration by the commission within 90 days,” said Loftus. “Over the summer, the working group met six times and voted on August 11 to present their draft policy to the commission. I’m pleased with their progress and look forward to hearing from them directly at our next commission meeting on Sept. 2.”

Even if the policy is finally delivered in September, Loftus has scheduled several community forums so the public can have input on any final policy. That means more delays to actually putting cameras on cops.

The Police Commission, charged with disciplining officers and creating policy for the department, has the final say on the policy governing camera use.

Police say the draft was finished Aug. 11, but the commission asked the department to present it Sept. 2.

Rebecca Young, a deputy public defender who was on the body camera working group, said police officials in the group had the deadline in mind and were pushing for the group to meet it. “I don’t think there’s foot dragging at all,” she said.

Lee announced earlier this year 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 the department’s image.

Before that announcement, the department had said it was working on starting a pilot program with $250,000 in federal grant funds. But costs associated with data storage and a yet-to-be finalized policy were holding back the launch.

In August 2013, Suhr said he would start rolling out body cameras for police supervisors to be used in searches in response to corruption charges regarding searches of single-room-occupancy units. The plan, as Suhr said at the time, was to roll them out within a month to six weeks. At that point, the department had already been vetting the cameras for a year.

But Suhr warned, as he has subsequently, that people should not expect a speedy rollout for all officers. Doing so now would require both community vetting and changes to department policy, which Suhr said won’t happen overnight. “We are a long way away,” he said in 2013.

That camera program for police supervisors never happened. Instead, the department kept working on its body camera policy.


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