Avalos: Should SFPD officers wear body mounted cameras?

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Image from a memorial for Alejandro Nieto, who was shot by SFPD officers. Avalos referenced the shooting in his request.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

The fatal shooting of Alejandro Nieto, a man who possessed a Taser that was mistaken for a firearm who was killed in Bernal Heights Park, produced a backlash of community anger toward the San Francisco Police Department. It was the first thing Sup. John Avalos mentioned when he called for a hearing on equipping officers with body-mounted video cameras at the April 8 Board of Supervisors meeting.

Avalos knew Nieto, and the incident struck close to home. He mentioned another recent incident of police violence at City College of San Francisco in which officers targeted student protesters; video footage from a bystander shows an officer releasing his nightstick, making a fist, and throwing a punch at someone already being restrained.

“These incidents show that there’s a great deal of work we need to do … to build trust between members of the community and the police department,” Avalos said. “These incidents involved people I knew and it almost makes me feel how widespread the problem can be.”

Police body-mounted cameras have been tried in New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans and other places as a way to shore up police accountability and provide a record of officer interactions with targeted suspects, Avalos said, and there is support for the technology both among law enforcement communities and civil liberties watchdog organizations.

“Many police support these cameras because they can help protect police officers against false accusations,” Avalos noted. “Watchdog groups support police body-mounted cameras because they can help reduce incidents of police misconduct. The [American Civil Liberties Union] supports the cameras because they allow the public to monitor the government, instead of the other way around.”

Avalos’ request called for a review of the feasibility of equipping police officers with body cams, taking concerns about cost and privacy into consideration, plus a cost-benefit analysis to show how the cost of the cameras would compare with potential savings from reductions in citizen complaints and use-of-force lawsuits.

SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Danielle Newman noted that the SFPD is already in contract negotiations for a pilot program that would equip 50 plainclothes sergeants with body-mounted cameras. The program would be funded through a federal grant, Newman said, and the department has not yet received the cameras or hashed out policies spelling out how long data would be stored, how often they would be used, or whether officers would be able to switch them on and off at will.

Newman said the pilot program grew out of allegations that undercover officers had stolen property and violated the civil rights of SRO residents during searches of their units, incidents that were initially brought to light by the San Francisco Public Defender and more recently became the subject of a federal indictment.

“When Chief Suhr took over, he was looking at ways to ensure that those things don’t happen again,” Newman explained. The department was under the leadership of former Police Chief George Gascon when the officers now facing charges were caught on film by SRO surveillance cameras.

Despite the planned pilot, Newman said Suhr was less certain about the idea of equipping 1,500 to 2,000 officers with body cameras, as Avalos’ request is geared toward.

“The concern with the chief is that with San Francisco, we haven’t been able to get crime cams put up,” she said, let alone having all officers record all police contact with the public. “That’s something that would need to be ironed out.”

Newman added that there were cost and logistical concerns associated with storage of bulk data generated by the cameras.

Rachel Lederman, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild who represented Occupy protester Scott Olsen in a police misconduct case that left Olsen with lasting brain injuries and resulted in a $4.5 million settlement, said she was skeptical of body cams as a “quick fix” for police violence.

Oakland police officers are equipped with personal digital recording devices, she noted, but in the incident the left Olsen permanently injured, “there were 11 police officers with less-lethal weapons who were supposed to have PDRDs on – but didn’t.”

Lederman said that based on her experience, the footage that is captured on body cams is kept under lock and key by police, and remains hidden to all but doggedly persistent criminal attorneys. In practice, “journalists and affected people can’t get it without a lawyer,” she said, because police departments tend to withhold the footage with the excuse that it pertains to ongoing investigations.

In order to serve as an effective tool for holding law enforcement accountable, Lederman said, body-cam videos “have to be produced under the Public Records Act.”

Lederman added that the video quality tends to be low, officers can turn them on and off at will, and “they try to use them as evidence against people they are arresting.”

Still, a study in Rialto, California that was undertaken by a group of Cambridge University researchers determined that police use-of-force and complaints against police officers declined dramatically after officers were outfitted with the recording devices.

"The findings suggest more than a 50 percent reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment," the authors concluded.

Lederman believes those findings are somewhat misleading, however. “Rialto has 66 police officers,” she pointed out. “It’s not really comparable to San Francisco or Oakland.”

Comments

other than the correct police response to an armed threat.

I support cameras for cops if they support the use, which many do apparently. and if they have a means to switch them off.

I also want to see more CCTV in public places as a quid pro quo. Avalos should not object if his intentions are to reduce crime

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

He won't be able to resist

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

Oops... too late. They couldn't resist, could they.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 8:43 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 7:16 am

Not pro-cop or anti-cop. Just pro-truth. Let's not forget, the public defender WINS 62% of cases in San Francisco. Juries in San Francisco are skeptical when cops get on the witness stand. If cops are arguing that truth is really on their side, then they should win more. If that's really the case, video evidence should help them. It would do a lot to clean up their reputation for lying on the stand, if they feel the reputation is not deserved.

The only thing, as others have said, is that we need to implement any such legislation in an evenhanded manner. Both sides of a case should have equal access to the video, and neither side should be able to turn it on and off at will.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 8:03 am

that they want them AND that they can be switched off for privacy reasons

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 8:09 am

The community is actually the primary stakeholder. They are employed to serve us, not the other way around.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

and discretion to do their job. People are very tolerant of what cops sometimes do to get the bad guy - far more than they would tolerate from others.

So a fair compromise is that cops have cameras but it is their discretion when to use them just like it is when they use guns

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

A camera is not the same as a gun.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

But the real point was that the discretion is the same quality either way. We give cops tools AND the discretion of when to use them.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

You wouldn't want a video of a cop fucking an underage prostitute, as they often do, in exchange for not arresting them. Why, it would violate the child's rights. Privacy is very important.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

then he switches off his camera, obviously.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

Nobody is suggesting that the camera be rolling as the cop calls his wife, or takes a leak, or dusts off the Krispy Kreme from his uniform.

Only during interactions with the public.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

Switch the camera on and off, which is all i was saying.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

I thought you wanted them to have the ability to switch them on and off whenever they want. Sure, of course there are some situations where cameras would be inappropriate. As long as it's not just left to the discretion of the individual officer, and there are clear rules governing when those times are -rules decided with the input of the community and appropriate police oversight bodies -I'm fine with that.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 11, 2014 @ 7:28 am

The "community" doesn't get to micro-manage cops. We elect the guy who appoints the head of SFPD, and I see no reason to change that chain of command.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 11, 2014 @ 8:23 am

In a democracy, public servants must be accountable politically. Under separation of powers, that accountability is dispersed to include the Mayor, Supervisors and, yes, the voters. If the cops don't like that, then they can get jobs as security guards or go into the military.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 11, 2014 @ 9:03 am

community, so obviously the community cannot order the police to not police the community, nor ultimately how.

But who are you kidding. Those who want to micro-manage the cops are always those who have a vested interest in undermining and weakening the police because, for some weird reason, they identify and sympathize with criminals more than cops.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 11, 2014 @ 10:12 am

It would be fun to watch him supplicate himself before his SEIU masters.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 6:32 pm

Absolutely - we should put body mounted cameras on elected officials.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

Elected officials and all "city officers," department heads, etc, as defined in the Charter.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 7:05 pm

Anyone who draws a public salary should wear an ankle bracelet and be recorded.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 7:17 am

they have the power to KILL??? Hmmm.... ya think?

Posted by Greg on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 7:49 am

But as long as the cameras can be switched on and off, I see no problem if the cops want this.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 11, 2014 @ 8:21 am

S.F. Cops Have Killed 83 People Since 1980
By Chris Roberts Tue., Apr. 8 2014 at 3:25 PM
The SF Weekly

Complaints of San Francisco police misconduct are at a 21-year low. Knowing that, you'd think San Francisco constables are more popular than they've been since the alcalde days.

But it's hard to buy into that notion when it appears that public mistrust of San Francisco cops is soaring, especially as of late. Last month, an officer shot and killed 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto, who was armed with a Taser; an angry march on the Hall of Justice materialized where police cars were vandalized. More recently, cops have been receiving anonymous death threats.

Authorities are well-aware that the streets aren't friendly to police: When applying for $1 million in grant funding from the federal Justice Department to keep the Bayview safe, District Attorney George Gascon's Office cited a "longstanding, deep-seated, and pervasive mistrust" of law enforcement.

Perhaps this is one reason why: San Francisco police appear to be some of the most trigger-happy cops in the country. In 2011, citizens were killed by police in San Francisco at 10 times the rate of those in New York City, and at about twice Los Angeles's rate.

No federally maintained clearinghouse of officer-involved shooting data exists, but according to stats compiled by one crime blogger, San Francisco's six fatal shootings in 2011 equals New York City's total -- and NYC has 10 times the people.

Local blogger Michael Petrelis dug up the data from San Francisco police , revealing that 83 people have been fatally shot by San Francisco cops since 1980. Of those, 29 killed were black men and 28 were white men.

Police shot and killed six people in 2011, which was the bloodiest year since 1990 when seven were killed at the hands of police officers.

We compiled a total by race and gender over the 34-year period:

Black males, 29

White males, 28

Asian males, 13

"Other" males, 6

Hispanic males, 3

Black females, 2

White females, 2

The recent outpouring of anger of the Nieto shooting hasn't been seen in quite some time, possibly since the shooting death of 19-year old Kenneth Harding on Third Street in 2011.

Amid that anger is a lot of misinformation. The word, repeated at City College, is that Nieto was killed while holding a burrito, not a Taser. That such misinformation would be bandied about as fact may say something about the perception of police here.

Is it because police here are seen as overly zealous with their guns?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

"S.F. Cops Have Killed 83 People Since 1980"

Or, to phrase it another way, less than three people a year.

Why, the SFPD is on a killing spree!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 9:33 pm

89 people in 34 years. That's less than 3 a year. Sometimes there will be more than that in a year, sometimes less. That would make 2011 seem like an outlier in terms of an average year.

The author brings up New York but omits the fact that the NYPD carry tasers while the SFPD doesn't. I can think off hand a couple of officer-involved shootings where tasers would probably have been deployed had they been equipped with them. But they aren't, so they have to use their firearms.

This article is also kind of funny in that it proves that the SFPD is not "gunning down Latinos because they're brown." Those statistics say you're much more likely to be shot if you're Asian or White.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 9:39 pm
Posted by lillipublicans on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 4:08 am

We all want cops to have the tools they need, but the fear is that the toys they ask for can be abused. Tasers in the wrong hands are basically torture devices.

I agree with the skeptical voices that cameras are not a panacea. But if it's done the right way (ie., the videos are accessible and cops can't turn them off at will), this would make an impact.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 7:57 am

Also the recording time is quite short so a cop can over-write the recording by simply doing nothing

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 8:08 am

How about we take the 83 civilians killed and divide the by the, what, 4 cops killed over that time and evaluate that expression?

Posted by marcos on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 5:14 am

If criminals were dangerous, we wouldn't give cops guns.

We give them guns so that they can shoot bad guys. 83 is very low - just one very 4 months or so.

Acceptable.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 7:19 am

Jason Grant Garza here ... yes, Avalos ... what do these words mean? “Many police support these cameras because they can help protect police officers against false accusations,” Avalos noted If you go to youtube and type in Jason Garza you will see close to 400 videos dealing with denial of medical care, SFPD, Sheriff, video cameras, etc. There you will find where even when I go to the police station I am told NOT to videotape. As a matter of fact here is a video tape where DPH produces a false restraining order against me that the Sheriff and SFPD are helpless and hopeless to help me or arrest the guilty department. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo&list=TL-SRHQbVGUd4XjUmXqxoPo...

Now comes the question as to whether the police cameras will work, record and are available to public if the need arises. So far the cameras at Northern Station do NOT work and SFPD has NO POLICIES for its video cameras. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2ZRYHsKmxk&list=TLX1Gi-NXvkNtqnvNr_gcta...

Here also is a video of going to Avalos to set a meeting to show videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMOwHH4tDx8 ... I await and will continue ... keep watching the videos tell your friends and don't ever ever believe them ... verify, check the details, ask questions and hold accountable. Now for a REAL LAUGH look at the OCC videos I have then we can speak of another rigged and unaccountable methodology to provide illusion and no real solution ...

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 7:48 am

If you're concerned about getting access to cops' bodycams, why not wear a bodycam yourself? Whipping out a video camera escalates conflict and misses its initial steps, but wearing an always-on camera lets you easily document any public conflict. Leads to better behavior on the wearer's part, too.

What we *do* need are publicly-viewable bodycams of civil servants who are not on the street... need sunshine on backroom antics of Avalos, Yee, Lerner, other such characters.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 8:29 am

want criminals to have any impediment to felonious behavior.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 9:02 am

It would be better to mount them with codpieces, so that the cops could sexually subdue perpetrators, especially the many colored women of color who shoplift.

Posted by Chromefields on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 10:32 am

The cops did their job on Bernal Heights end of story if the public has a problem get over it may-be you would LOVE to meet the US Marshals,or National Guard they do not explain nothing put up or shut-up

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 11:04 am

are all investigated and policed by the Fed. No messing there.

Same with the death penalty. States take forever but a federal death penalty goes through like an express train.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 11:17 am

Police violence has dropped by as much as 50% in cities where officers are required to wear cameras. Buy the cameras, make them wear them, and make not having your camera on a fireable offense and you will see incidents of police violence drop noticeably, instantly.

Posted by bassguitarhero on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 1:48 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

Body mounted cameras? DUMB IDEA!

How would everyone reading this like to have a camera mounted to your body in

order to hold you to perfection in your every move at work??

Posted by Bill on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

his hand so that the camera sees nothing and hears nothing

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 5:18 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 11:32 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

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