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January 9, 2018

PBA sues NYC to stop selective release of body-cam videos

By Anthony M. DeStefano

The New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association on Tuesday said it has sued the city to stop the NYPD from selectively releasing police body-camera videos.

In a statement Tuesday, the PBA contends that the release of images violates section 50-A of the state's civil rights law in that the videos are police personnel records exempt from disclosure by the statute.

The union, which represents about 22,000 rank-and-file cops, also said the release of the videos, which occurred three times last year in cases of police shootings, is done in an inconsistent and arbitrary way.

"This sets a dangerous precedent, not only for police officers but also the district attorneys," said PBA president Patrick Lynch. "It jeopardizes the privacy rights of citizens who are captured in police videos . . . and should concern others such as good government advocates and all New Yorkers."

The lawsuit against the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio was filed Tuesday in Manhattan State Supreme Court, a PBA spokesman said.

In a statement, the NYPD defended its body camera footage policy.

"The Police Commissioner has spoken, repeatedly, on the need for increased transparency in how we police," the NYPD said. "The release of body camera footage, when possible, is an important extension of that commitment."

A city official said the true intent of section 50-A "has always been to block the release of disciplinary records that could be used in the context of litigation for 'abusive exploitation' and to prevent the release of sensitive personnel records that could be used in litigation for the purposes of harassing or embarrassing officers."

After a period of experimentation, the NYPD began wider distribution of body cameras to officers last April. In the latest police labor contract the union and the city agreed that cameras would be given to the entire patrol force by 2020. Police Commissioner James O'Neill has said that the department would release videos on a selective basis.

An NYPD spokesman early Tuesday said a statement about the PBA action was being prepared for release.

In its court filing, the PBA cited three cases in 2017 in which body camera videos were publicly released. In two of the cases cops shot and killed suspects.

The most recent release, on Nov. 29, 2017, showed cops confronting and fatally shooting a man in a Bronx facility for the mentally ill after he stabbed two security guards and stepped toward the officers with a 4-inch steak knife, the court papers stated.