The NYPD’s entire patrol force will be equipped with body cameras by the end of the year, one year earlier than previously projected, Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill announced Jan. 30.
The announcement drew an immediate blast from Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch, who was not convinced that the program had value. The union called it a “huge expenditure for questionable results.”
Make City Fairer Faster
“By ensuring all patrol officers are outfitted with these essential, modern policing tools a year faster than originally planned, we’re helping to make New York City fairer faster, and growing trust between police and communities,” Mr. de Blasio said at a press conference at Brooklyn’s 79th Precinct, using his two mantras for community policing, fairness and trust.
“We are on track to have all precinct, transit and housing commands citywide up-and-running with body cameras by the end of this year,” Mr. O’Neill said at the press conference.
“With increased accountability and additional resources, we will continue to work together to maintain our city’s record-low crime rate,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who also attended the press conference.
“I wish I had a body camera when I was a police officer,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, who spent 22 years in the NYPD, retiring as a Captain. “Transparency in policing highlights the overwhelmingly positive and powerful work that cops do in our communities, while providing critical evidence in the pursuit of justice for those select cases in which an encounter goes wrong.”
It was up to Mr. Lynch to throw cold water on the optimistic pronouncements. “It makes no sense to accelerate the program while there are so many unresolved issues regarding the use of body cams, including the very basic question of whether they actually produce a meaningful change in the interaction between police officers and civilians on the street,” he said in a statement.
“The largest, most-rigorous study to date suggests they have no such effect. Meanwhile, jurisdictions across the country are confronting issues regarding due process, safety, and privacy of police officers and those who are the subject of captured footage, as well as a huge drain on municipal resources for unclear benefit.
“The NYC PBA has, in fact, filed suit against the NYPD and the city for the arbitrary and illegal release of body-cam video. It would be much more prudent to slow the roll-out down while these difficult legal and practical issues are resolved,” Mr. Lynch said.
Communities United for Police Reform, usually on the opposite side from the PBA, shared the union’s opinion on body cameras.
‘Still No Transparency’
“Body-worn cameras don’t equate to police accountability and transparency on their own, and the Mayor and NYPD are too eagerly seeking to claim they do to compensate for their poor record on police accountability and transparency,” said spokesman Mark Winston Griffith. “Studies have shown that BWCs have not delivered those results, and the NYPD’s policies on the cameras, lack of discipline for police misconduct, and refusing to release basic information about the status of police-brutality cases undermine any stated goals related to police accountability and transparency.”
He continued, “The NYPD’s policy on public access to the footage is regressive and gives the NYPD unilateral and unchecked control over the captured footage and its release, while the rules on when officers must turn cameras on are equally bad. This makes it nearly impossible that New Yorkers subject to police brutality caught on these cameras—if captured at all—will be able to access their own footage in a reasonably convenient way.”
City Councilman Jumaane Williams, a leader in the fight against former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policy of aggressive stop-and-frisk, praised the speedup of the rollout but joined CPR in criticizing the handling of footage from the cameras.
“For true transparency and accountability, we must quickly create a sensible policy for the footage collected to be made public based on what the public needs, not selective release, motivated by self-preservation,” he said in a statement. “In addition, that footage, if clearly revealing errant behavior, should result in swift action by the administration and the NYPD.”
The PBA sued the city last month, contending that release of the footage violates Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law, which prohibits giving out disciplinary information on police officers without the approval of a judge or the officer involved. It also charged that Mr. O’Neill had released footage on a selective basis, giving out video of three police-involved shootings while denying reporters’ requests for film of other incidents.
The NYPD began its program last April with cameras for 1,200 officers in 20 precincts. As of Jan. 26, the department had 2,470 cameras, Mr. de Blasio’s press office said. The department planned to issue 800 cameras in January, another 800 in February, and then 1,000 to 2,000 per month beginning in March. By the end of 2018, the NYPD plans to have deployed a total of 18,000 cameras, enough for all Police Officers and Detective Specialists assigned to patrol.
The de Blasio Administration’s Preliminary Budget includes $5.9 million in Fiscal Year 2018, $12 million in Fiscal Year 2019 and $9.5 million in Fiscal Year 2020 for funding for the accelerated rollout. The resources will cover the cost of purchasing cameras, equipment for charging cameras in precincts, additional Internet bandwidth to accommodate faster uploads, and building necessary space in the Risk Management, Information Technology and Legal bureaus.
The pilot program on body cameras was ordered in 2013 by U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, now retired, as a remedy in her ruling that Mr. Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk program was racially biased and unconstitutional.