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Police Cameras Only Work When You Turn Them On

Scott Lucas | August 27, 2013 | Story Politics

According to the Examiner, certain SFPD officers will soon begin wearing portable cameras while executing search warrants. The move isn't expected to help them prevent or solve any crimes—rather, it comes in reponse to corruption charges from 2011 that alleged police had been entering Single Resident Occupancy units without warrants. In the fallout, prosecutors were forced to drop hundreds of cases.

Will the cameras help our police department's searches stand up in court? One answer comes from Oakland, where police have been wearing lapel cameras for several years—only to find themselves in more trouble. That's according to the East Bay Express, which reported that in 2010, the Oakland Police Department spent over $540,000 to buy 350 of the cameras, only to have some members of the police cover them up during violence at the Occupy Oakland protests. After two officers also covered up their cameras during a November 2012 protest, they faced departmental discipline, with one being demoted and the other suspended from duty.

However, such cameras have become increasingly popular with departments around the country. The city of Rialto, in Southern California, equips all members of its police with cameras that are kept on at all times during their shifts. In the last year, the number of complaints filed against officers has declined 88 percent, according to the New York Times.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of cameras may matter less than the willingness of members of the police to go along with the technology. Cameras only work when you turn them on. Seems obvious, but it's not a lesson that seems to be internalized in Oakland. Now San Francisco's cops get their chance to be tested.

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