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Pilot Program To Equip Deputies In San Francisco Jail With Body Cameras

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Two years after allegations first surfaced that deputies in a San Francisco jail were forcing inmates to fight each other, the Sheriff's Department is preparing to equip guards in that jail with body-worn cameras.

The department is asking the Board of Supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee on Thursday to release $135,000 in reserved funding to begin a pilot program that would equip around 30 deputies in Jail No. 4 with the cameras.

The department, which primarily manages city jails and security at city buildings and courthouses, plans to test the cameras in the jail for six months to a year before seeking to expand to all 850 deputies.

Since the money was budgeted last year, the department has been working to develop a policy for the use of the cameras, which will primarily be for incidents such as emergency calls, fights, removing or placing an inmate in a cell or possible criminal activity.

The policy includes provisions to protect inmate privacy in areas such as restrooms and hospitals, Sheriff Vicki Hennessy said Wednesday.

"While you're in jail, there is no expectation of privacy, however there is some humanity and compassion in making sure people do have some privacy," Hennessy said.

Jail No. 4, on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St., was chosen for the pilot program in part because it has problems with visibility and surveillance camera coverage, Hennessy said.

The jail, which can house up to 400 inmates, was also the scene of incidents in 2014 and 2015 in which deputies allegedly forced inmates to fight each other.

Three deputies, Scott Neu, Eugene Jones and Clifford Chiba, were charged last March with felony and misdemeanor charges in connection with the allegations, which first surfaced in March 2015.

The city has since settled a civil lawsuit filed by the inmates, but the criminal case is still in progress, with the next court dates set for Neu and Jones on May 26 and for Chiba on April 6.

After the allegations became public in March 2015, former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi called for the guards in that jail to be equipped with body-worn cameras.

However, Mirkarimi, who fell out of political favor because of a domestic violence case involving his wife, could not persuade the mayor's office to support funding the project and was voted out of office later that year.

While body-worn cameras have become increasingly common among police departments, their use on jail guards is still less common. However, Santa Clara County officials voted in January to equip deputies including jail guards with the cameras.

In San Francisco, the Police Commission approved a body-worn camera policy for the Police Department in June of last year after months of negotiations with the police union.

A key sticking point was whether or not officers should be allowed to look at footage before or after writing incident reports. The union argued officers should be allowed to refresh their memory, while police watchdog groups argued that they should be required to make a statement first to avoid any alteration of facts to fit the footage.

Ultimately, the department compromised, requiring a brief initial statement by the officer before viewing footage, but allowing a review of the footage before a more in-depth interview.

Hennessy said the sheriff's department pilot program will include consideration of whether to allow deputies to view the footage before or after they file reports.

A report from the Board of Supervisors budget and legislative analyst is recommending that the board approve the approximately $41,000 needed for the initial purchase of the cameras, rather than the full $135,000 set aside in the budget. The cameras are expected to cost around $23,600 annually to operate.

Equipping the entire department would cost an estimated $210,000 and raise the annual operating costs to $380,000, the report said.

Hennessy said the department has not yet set a date for the start of the program because it remains unclear how long it would take to obtain the cameras and train the deputies.

The funding request will be heard by the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Sub-committee at 10 a.m. Thursday.

TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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