August 19, 2013


PBA Objects to Judge’s Order of Body Cameras

‘An Encumbrance for Members’

By Mark Toor


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Spend camera money on cops.


The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is saying “not so fast” to the section of U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s stop-and-frisk decision that orders some officers to wear body cameras to film their interactions with the public.

“It is common knowledge that New York City is already saturated with video cameras,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. “Manhattan has its ring of steel. The outer boroughs have traffic cameras and countless private and public security cameras located everywhere. So there is simply no need to equip patrol officers with body cams.”

‘Already Weighed Down’ 

“Our members are already weighed down with equipment like escape hoods, mace, flashlights, memo books, ASPs, radio, handcuffs and the like. Additional equipment becomes an encumbrance and a safety issue for those carrying it,” he continued. 

“Given that the root cause of this stop-and-frisk problem is a significant shortage of police officers in local precincts, it seems to us that the monies spent on a body-cam pilot program would be better spent on hiring more police officers and providing them with extensive field training with an experienced officer.”

He also indicated the union would exercise its right to require negotiations with the city on any new equipment its members are required to wear.

Body cameras were not initially sought by the plaintiffs, but Judge Scheindlin was intrigued by a passing mention of them by James K. Stewart, a retired Chief of Detectives from Oakland, Calif., who was testifying for the city. The Judge interrupted him to ask, “What do you think of body-worn cameras?”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Mr. Stewart replied. “We recommended it in Las Vegas. And we’re doing it in Phoenix as well.”

Affects Active Precincts

In her opinion, Judge Scheindlin ordered a one-year pilot program in which patrol officers in the precinct in each borough that had the largest number of stops in 2012 would wear the cameras.

“Video recordings will serve a variety of useful functions,” she wrote. “First, they will provide a contemporaneous, objective record of stops and frisks, allowing for the review of officer conduct by supervisors and the courts. The recordings may either confirm or refute the belief of some minorities that they have been stopped simply as a result of their race, or based on the clothes they wore, such as baggy pants or a hoodie.

“Second, the knowledge that an exchange is being recorded will encourage lawful and respectful interactions on the part of both parties. Third, the recordings will diminish the sense on the part of those who file complaints that it is their word against the police, and that the authorities are more likely to believe the police.”

She continued, “When a small police department in Rialto, Calif. introduced body-worn cameras, ‘[t]he results from the first 12 months [were] striking. Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study.’

Positives Convinced Her

“While the logistical difficulties of using body-worn cameras will be greater in a larger police force, the potential for avoiding constitutional violations will be greater as well.”

Mayor Bloomberg, who has condemned both the decision and the Judge who made it and has ordered an appeal, said, “It would be a nightmare. Cameras don’t exactly work that way. Camera on the lapel or the hat of the police officer—he’s turned the right way, he didn’t turn the right way, ‘My God, he deliberately did it.’’’

But Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is involved in some court challenges to stop-and-frisk, said the project would be a “win-win” for both the police and the public.

“We have always said that cameras are a double-edged sword,” she said. “They would present a lot of potential for good and a lot of potential for privacy invasions. But when you’re interacting with the Police Department, there is so much ‘he said, she said.’ The power imbalance is enormous.”

Sgt. Mark Clark of the Scottsdale, Ariz., Police Department told the New York Times that his department began a pilot program with body cameras two months ago. Shortly after it began, a camera showed that a person who had filed a complaint against an officer had made it up. That caused officers who were not so positive about the cameras to change their minds, he said.