Starting in December, around 50 SFPD officers will strap small, wearable video cameras to themselves. It's all part of a pilot program funded by quarter-million dollar federal grant. According to Chief Greg Suhr, the always-on cameras will eliminate any doubt that comes from witness-shot cellphone video or spotty surveillance camera coverage.
Over two years ago, BART cops started testing similar cameras in the wake of the officer-involved shootings of Charles Hill and Oscar Grant. According to BART PD's deputy chief, the transit cops were originally skeptical of the idea, but they're now calling it "the future of law enforcement."
As part of the pilot program, SFPD officers will be getting the same Axon Flex devices made by Taser that were rolled out to BART officers back in June. The cameras, featured in the Chronicle's BART PD slideshow today, can be worn on either an officer's shoulder or above their ear like a clunkier version of Google Glass. The initial SFPD rollout will give the devices to 50 plainclothes officers that regularly perform search warrants and parole checks — something that got the SFPD in trouble with Public Defender Jeff Adachi in the past.
The idea is to make sure officers are properly identifying themselves when they make house calls. But Chief Suhr believes always-on cameras like these could also prove vital in controversial instances like the arrest of D'Paris Williams at Valencia Gardens last week. In that case, Suhr claimed the video shot by bystanders doesn't show the whole story. "It's always the second punch," Suhr told The Chronicle. "When the cell phones go on, we're in the middle of a response and we're losing the argument."