Mayor de Blasio and his NYPD commissioner are breaking the law by releasing police body-cam footage without getting a court order first — trading officers’ safety for political gain, according to a new lawsuit by the police union.
“The mayor and the NYPD have shown a reckless disregard for these concerns by circumventing the existing process set up by the state legislature and selectively releasing portions of videos to suit their own interests,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said in a statement announcing the suit.
The Manhattan Supreme Court papers say the state’s Civil Rights Law 50-A bars the public airing of the footage because the videos are part of officers’ personnel records, which are exempt from disclosure.
The NYPD disagrees. Police Commissioner James O’Neill has said that while the original uncut footage is part of an officer’s personnel record, redacted copies released to the public are not.
City Hall and the NYPD said in a statement: “The mayor and the police commissioner have spoken to the need for increasing transparency into the way our city is policed. The release of body camera footage, when possible, is an important extension of that commitment.”
The department posted its first-ever body-cam footage of a police-involved killing in September. The tense, 48-minute video shows Bronx resident Miguel Antonio Richards threatening cops with a fake gun and a real knife before he’s killed in a fusillade of police bullets.
Both the PBA and Bronx district attorney objected to releasing the video.
At the time, DA Darcel Clark said that publishing “the videos to the public during the early stages of an investigation may resolve some questions about the incident but also could compromise the integrity of the investigation.”
Since the September shooting, the NYPD has released footage from two more police shootings.
The PBA suit says only a judge can make the videos public after a hearing. The process ensures that the mayor and NYPD “cannot selectively release footage to serve their own political or other objectives irrespective of the harm it might cause others,” the suit says.
The disclosures could fuel violence against cops, the suit says, citing the “tragic murder of several police officers in New York City.”
Victims’ family members could also be traumatized by “potentially graphic or disturbing footage” and there are privacy concerns for other people captured in the videos, the suit says.
The NYPD launched its body-cam pilot program last year in response to a 2013 federal court ruling that declared the department’s use of stop and frisk unconstitutional.
The PBA suit asks the judge to force the mayor and the NYPD to seek a court order before releasing the footage.