Office of Citizen Complaints

Policy Recommendations

Reference: OCC # 580-99; 957-98; 700-98; 680-98; 618-98; 579-97; 212-96
Unit Orders 97-001, 89-01, 94-05

Subject: Recording Operations of the Vice Crimes Division

Recommendation: The Office of Citizen Complaints recommends that, during continued implementation of the recording of prostitution abatement incidents, the San Francisco Police Department:

(1) procure state-of-the-art listening and recording devices,

(2) update member training on proper operation of the devices,

(3) establish systematic procedures for conducting and recording incidents,

(4) provide written guidelines regarding the chain of custody of recordings,

(5) maintain access logs and

(6) obtain secured facilities for storage of recordings

to ensure that surveillance recordings are usable and safeguarded to prevent overdubbing, deletions, loss of recordings or unauthorized access.

The OCC has received numerous complaints in which investigations have yielded partially or totally inaudible recordings that purport to document incidents of solicitation for prostitution. Recordings are stored in an unsecured location and no log is maintained to track access to the recordings. In response to OCC's investigations, officers reported that 10 - 25% of the recordings of these operations contain sections of tape that are unintelligible due to malfunctioning equipment and/or human error.

The general availability of advanced recording equipment makes a 10 - 25% error rate unsatisfactory for purposes of both officer safety and providing evidence as to allegations of illegal activity. As to officer safety, "decoy" officers in a prostitution abatement operation may depend on the devices to relay sounds from an unfolding scene to back-up units. Information relayed via the recording equipment informs back-up officers if and when the situation becomes dangerous to the "decoy" officer. As to probity of tape recordings, a key element of admissibility in a criminal case is whether or not the recorded evidence is usable and unadulterated. Also, frequent occurrences of scrambled, arguably "overdubbed" or missing tapes may lend an appearance of improper manipulation or even corruption to Department operations.


Prepared by: RIVER GINCHILD ABEJE, Policy and Outreach Specialist

Approved by: MARY C. DUNLAP, Director

Date: August 30, 1999

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