AP Photo/Mendocino County Sheriff's OfficeThis 2013 photo released by the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office shows Jonathan Denver. Denver

AP Photo/Mendocino County Sheriff's OfficeThis 2013 photo released by the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office shows Jonathan Denver. Denver

Great use of video by public safety officials is in the interest of society

Police officers in San Francisco will soon wear chest-mounted cameras when serving search warrants. This will be beneficial for everyone involved and should highlight the advantages of having evidence when the actions of public safety employees are called into question.

The Police Department will equip supervisors with cameras to be turned on just before officers enter a residence to serve a search warrant. This policy is a response to 2011 accusations by the Public Defender's Office that officers illegally entered single-room occupancy hotel rooms and later falsified reports to justify the searches.

More than one story often emerges when citizens and law enforcement officials interact. With video, after-the-fact observers will have a much more precise record of exactly what transpired, unclouded by the emotions or faulty memories that often affect people on both sides.

The Police Department has not jumped blindly into giving officers cameras. It took a year to roll out a limited program that will be used by a small number of supervisors in certain situations. Police Chief Greg Suhr doesn't rule out using cameras in other situations, but said his department would first have to change its policies — a public process likely to take time.

The potential upside of using cameras in police work has been highlighted by the city of Rialto in Southern California, which started doing so in February 2012. According to an article in The New York Times, police there have seen an 88 percent decline in complaints since then, and a 60 percent drop in the use of force by police officers. It should not surprise anyone to learn that everyone behaves a little better when they know their actions are being recorded on video.

And such video recording should not stop with the police. During the response to the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport, one city firefighter evidently used a helmet-mounted camera to capture video of crucial moments in which a firefighting rig struck a passenger. This video will help investigators determine how some decisions were made on that day — crucial evidence free from the adrenaline-fueled horror of that tragic event and the brave work of first responders.

The release of that footage, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, initially drew a rebuke from the Fire Department, which noted that the footage violated its policy. But the department later said it will reconsider the use of cameras by its officers.

Like the police, the Fire Department should devise some clear-cut rules for how and when its personnel record video. There are undoubtedly many valid privacy concerns surrounding such footage, particularly issues involving images of victims.

But just because such video is taken and made available to fire officials does not mean that it should necessarily be released to the public. In fact, one can envision many occasions in which such video should not be released — as is the case with various police reports and court records that are permanently sealed or heavily redacted before being made public.

On a near-daily basis, firefighters and police officers must make split-second decisions to protect the lives of regular citizens. Video footage can capture these situations for future review to help police and fire officials better train their staffs and devise policies that benefit society.

In short, the era of public safety video recording is upon us. And while privacy concerns should remain central in the minds of anyone working to craft policies regarding the use of such video, the benefits to the public of such recordings clearly outweigh the risks.

Asiana AirlineseditorialsOpinionSan Francisco Fire DepartmentSan Francisco Police Department

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Cities including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are calling for large grocery and drug store chains to pay employees hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)
SF proposes $5 hazard pay law for grocery, drug store workers

San Francisco may soon join the growing number of cities requiring large… Continue reading

Hikers walk along a closed stretch of Twin Peaks Boulevard on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board to vote on future of Twin Peaks Boulevard

The proposal would keep Burnett Avenue gate closed to vehicles, open Portola Drive

Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Klein collects crayons from students in the classroom at Lupine Hill Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020 in Calabasas, California. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Newsom, legislators strike deal to reopen California schools

Taryn Luna and John Myers Los Angeles Times Gov. Gavin Newsom and… Continue reading

A sign about proposed development of the bluff at Thornton State Beach in Daly City on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Retreat center proposed at popular state beach

Daly City residents oppose construction on ocean bluffs

City supervisors are calling for an expansion of free summer programs for elementary age kids. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Supervisors urge city to provide free summer programs for all SFUSD students

San Francisco supervisors on Monday announced a proposal to expand summer programs… Continue reading

Most Read