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March 6, 2019, 2:00 PM

Let's go the videotape — More than 3.5 million recordings on NYPD body worn cameras, but police can't say how many they've watched


Cops have recorded more than 3.5 million encounters from body-worn cameras — but the NYPD Wednesday couldn't say how many they've actually reviewed.

Authorities said precinct supervisors are required to regularly look over footage to make sure officers are using the cameras and taking proper police action.

"At a command level we have designed and required supervisors to conduct monthly inspections by doing random samplings of body cameras… for a whole host of issues,” said Assistant Chief Matthew Pontillo. “Whether or not the officer activated the camera in a timely fashion, whether the officer employed proper tactics, followed policy, things like that.”

At One Police Plaza, the Risk Management Bureau reviews footage to make sure encounters, like an arrest or summons, have been recorded, Pontillo said. But for the 3.5 million recordings made so far, Pontillo was unable to quantify just how many have been reviewed.

At a news conference, First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker said what’s more important is that footage is continuously being scrutinized.

“We don’t want any gaps,” Tucker said. “We don’t want months to go by...because we miss things if we don’t.

“We’ve been vigilant about that because we recognize how critical it is.”

Tucker reported all officers, sergeants and lieutenants — about 20,000 cops in all — are now wearing body-worn cameras in every precinct, housing and transit command in the city.

And each week, about 86,000 recordings are made — making it the largest such initiative in American policing. About 4,000 more cops from a number of specialty units, including Emergency Services and the Strategic Response Group, will get cameras by August.

The NYPD has touted camera use a way to promote transparency and show the public the way police handle tense situations.

But a lawsuit by the Police Benevolent Association has delayed that effort. Police have halted release to the media any footage of police-involved shootings, putting requests made under the state’s Freedom of Information Law on hold. The PBA is appealing a recent state court ruling that allows the release of body camera footage. The union had previously sued to block that practice and got an injunction, arguing the footage constitutes a personnel record exempt from public disclosure under Section 50-a of the state’s civil rights law.

Nonetheless, Tucker said the program has been successful, with the footage providing another way to measure an officer's performance, especially use of tactics, and to enhance investigations.

Critics have said officers sometimes don’t turn on their cameras as quickly as they’re required.

“In the limited cases where we’ve actually had recordings turned over to us, the footage begins in the middle of the stop and it doesn’t capture the reason for the officers’ approach,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society’s Litigation Unit.

But Pontillo said most footage he’s seen starts inside a patrol car, meaning officers are pressing the record button when they should.

The impetus for body-worn cameras dates back to 2013, when a federal judge ruled that cops were stopping and frisking people unconstitutionally, violating the rights of minorities in the city.

The judge, Shira Scheindlin, called for a federal monitor to oversee a number of reforms, including camera use.

The NYPD hit record on a mini-pilot program in 2015, then began a department-wide expansion, in stages, beginning in 2017.