Wall Street Journal
September 5, 2014

NYPD Unveils Two Cameras for Officers

Six Precincts Citywide Will Test-Run the Devices in a Program Court Ordered by a Judge


Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal  

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton talks as Sgt. Joseph Freer and Sgt. Andrea Cruz demonstrate body worn cameras during a news conference on Thursday.


New York Police Department officers will begin testing two types of officer body cameras within the next several months in an effort make interactions between police and citizens more transparent, Commis-sioner William Bratton said Thursday.

The NYPD will be the largest police force in the nation to use the technology. It has been championed by elected officials, community leaders and some judges as a potential remedy to tense and sometimes fatal interactions between law-enforcement officials and the people they encounter.

The camera is a significant enhancement to the 'he said, she said' controversy," Mr. Bratton said. "But it is not the end all."

The pilot program will adopt two cameras that are widely used by large and small police forces across the country. The Vievu, about the size of a pager, can be worn on the front of an officer's shirt. The Taser can be mounted on an officer's ear, glasses, collar or shoulder.

Approximately 60 officers in six precincts—one precinct in each of the city's five boroughs and one public-housing district—will begin wearing the devices by year's end, said Jessica Tisch, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for information technology.

Up to 10 volunteer officers in each precinct will wear one model. The three eight-hour shifts in each precinct will have at least one officer wearing a camera. They will provide feedback in surveys and focus groups, Ms. Tisch said.

The precincts mostly cover East Harlem in Manhattan, Mott Haven in the Bronx, East New York in Brooklyn, Jamaica in Queens and the north shore of Staten Island.

Police Service Area 2, a public-housing precinct that covers crime-heavy Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Brownsville and East New York, is also part of the pilot.

NYPD officials are still working on a set of policy guidelines, such as when the cameras should be turned on, how the massive digital files will be stored and for how long, and who has access to the files, Ms. Tisch said. Storage of the footage could cost millions of dollars.

Those guidelines have to be in place before the officers start using the cameras.

"This is an extraordinarily complex initiative. It is not simply going down to your local RadioShack, buying one of these things, and putting it on," Mr. Bratton said. "The storage issue is phenomenal."

The video is meant to protect both police and citizens, Mr. Bratton said. The 

footage may be released to the public, used at interdepartmental hearings, or at trial.

Around the nation, Mr. Bratton said, the cameras "tend to de-escalate" hostile confrontations between police and citizens and reduce the number of "bald-faced lies" about police actions.

"This is one of the selling points for the cops," Mr. Bratton said.

The program stems from an order by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who in 2013 declared the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional because it disproportionately targeted minority communities. She ordered the camera pilot in the precincts with the most stops as part of that ruling.

The plaintiffs in that case called the program a "nontransparent, go-it-alone approach to police reform," said their Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Darius Charney. "The pilot project ordered by the court envisioned a collaborative process in which the city, plaintiffs and court monitor work together."

The Taser axon flex.   

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union that represents police officers, said "a body-camera pilot program is part of our challenge to Judge Scheindlin's decision." He added, "Police officers have nothing to hide but there are many unanswered questions."

The NYPD and unions have discussed how the footage will factor into inquiries about officer behavior. "Before we question an officer about a circumstance…we would allow the officer to view the video. I am not interested in 'gotcha,' " Mr. Bratton said.

Mr. Bratton said the program hasn't been approved by a court-appointed federal monitor, which hasn't yet been approved by a judge. He said the NYPD will work with the monitor once that person is installed.

The Vievu L3.   

A national discussion on the use of police cameras was sparked in recent weeks after an 18-year-old man was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer on Aug. 18. Ferguson's 53 police officers began wearing body cameras in the aftermath.

In New York, political and community leaders have pushed for the cameras after the death of Eric Garner, 43, who died after being put in an apparent chokehold by an NYPD officer who was attempting to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island.

Witness video of that incident posted online generated significant scrutiny of the actions of two officers and two emergency medical workers, and a grand jury will decide whether criminal charges are warranted.

Chuck Wexler, president of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based research group that is studying concerns related to body cameras, said departments face a number of issues related to costs, storage and privacy.

Mr. Wexler said officers encounter informants, crime victims and other people at a "very low moment in their life," and will need discretion on when to use the cameras.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman called the plan a "win-win" but added that safeguards must be in place to protect the privacy of officers and the public.

The Los Angeles Police Department launched a pilot program with the same cameras in January, said Mr. Bratton, who served as police commissioner of the LAPD from 2002 to 2009.

NYPD officials visited Los Angeles and five other cities, including San Francisco, San Jose, Las Vegas, and Oakland, where cameras have been deployed.

At first, LAPD officers recorded one to two hours of footage for every 10-hour shift. They are now up to three to four hours, said NYPD Sgt. Joe Freer.

The Taser Axon Flex consists of a battery pack connected to an index-finger-size camera that can be mounted in several places on an officer. It is always recording video, without audio, in 30-second increments. When an office presses a button on the battery pack, it begins to record video for longer and store it.

The Vievu LE3, a pager-size unit that clips on the center of a shirt, turns on when the shutter in front of the lens is slid open.

The Police Foundation, a private organization that raises money for NYPD initiatives, paid nearly $60,000 for the cameras, Ms. Tisch said.