SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said he will fire one of the four deputies accused of staging jailhouse fights between inmates, and called for the mayor’s office to fund body cameras for deputies working in city prisons to mitigate future abuses of power.
“I have requested this over the last two years, long before recent incidents have occurred that certainly have garnered our attention,” Mirkarimi told reporters at a press conference in his office Thursday. “Philosophically I believe the wave of the future for modern community policing does need to include body cameras in order to help enhance transparency and accountability for the law enforcement officials that work the street and the deputy sheriffs that work inside prisons and jails.”
He added, “The level of public trust that we also need to work hard to uphold I think makes the case that we should have body cameras, and the city needs to invest.”
Mirkarimi said his office believes so strongly in the idea that it put up $50,000 to purchase 30 body cameras.
He noted that the use of such devices may have prevented recent abuses at San Francisco County Jail number 4, where inmates were allegedly being forced to fight each other “gladiator-style” for food. “It could have been significant, especially if anyone else claims they were not witness to the fights themselves,” Mirkarimi said.
Better security at the jail also could have prevented the fights, where Mirkarimi said “conditions are deplorable and there are a lot of blind spots,” but “it’s been like pulling teeth to get those funds to enhance our fixed security system at County Jail number 4,” he added.
Deputy Scott Neu, the purported ringleader of the jailhouse fight club, was fired this week. But the FBI and City Attorney’s office are still investigating Neu and the other three implicated deputies, who were called back to work in jobs where they won’t be in contact with inmates.
“Bringing them back no longer requires us to keep them on paid time off,” Mirkarimi explained.
Mirkarimi expects deputies will start using the 30 new body cameras within three months, after his office works with city attorneys to develop a policy that protects inmates’ privacy rights.
“The kind of policy about body cameras on the street is very different that inside prisons and jails. The creature doesn’t really exist in the state of California. We’re inventing as we go. The respect of our staff for the inmates must be followed through and must be adhered to,” he said, adding, “You have to respect the inmates’ privacy if they’re going to the bathroom, if they’re in medical or if they’re naked.”
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee also announced Thursday that the city will spend $6.6 million over the next two years to outfit its patrol officers with body cameras. Mirkarimi said he hopes that “the political will that’s been extended to the SFPD is extended to the sheriff’s department.”
Not to fund body cameras for sheriff’s deputies is “like flying a one-winged airplane,” he said.
But he added that city officials “have been tentative at best on this idea.”
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