Grassroots partners continued their fight for transparency and oversight in the forthcoming introduction of body worn cameras (BWCs) by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) at a public meeting Wednesday night. Police commissioners voted on further amendments to language in a draft policy governing the use of BWCs, focusing on the critical issue of whether officers will be permitted to view recordings before filing their reports.
In a decision that surprised some, the meeting concluded with a vote 5-1 in favor of amended language which forbids officers from viewing footage in situations involving an officer-involved shooting or an in-custody death. While this was cast as a compromise between advocates for greater transparency and police representatives, activists were quick to point out that this prohibition is subject to the Police Chief’s discretion. The language in the approved draft reads:
[A SFPD] member may review a BWC recording … for any legitimate investigatory purpose … except when the member is the subject of the investigation in any of the following circumstances that were captured by the BWC:
a) an officer-involved shooting or in-custody death;
b) criminal investigation;
c) at the discretion of the Chief of Police or his/her designee.
Activists also argue that the policy has no teeth, with no consequences specified for officers that violate its provisions.
A clause barring officers from reviewing footage in cases with “reportable use of force” – proposed by Deputy Public Defender Rebecca Young – was also excluded from the draft approved in Wednesday’s meeting. Attendees pointed to recent, controversial use-of-force incidents in which officers would have been allowed to review BWC footage while preparing incident reports, with Public Defender Jeff Adachi arguing that “an officer who is confronted with a reality on tape that differs with his or her recollection of an incident might be inclined to fabricate a justification for their actions.”
Following approval of this draft, the policy will now be sent to the City’s Department of Human Resources and the police union for review, before being returned to the Police Commission for final adoption.