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October 19, 2023

The NYPD is using AI to analyze body camera footage. Civil rights activists have privacy concerns.

By Bahar Ostadan

The NYPD has launched a pilot program that uses artificial intelligence to analyze police body-worn camera footage and evaluate individual officers’ on-the-job professionalism.

The police department signed a contract for the program with Truleo, a Chicago-based tech company that processes body camera videos, according to a statement on the company’s crowdfunding website dated Oct. 13.

Truleo says its mission is to “improve trust in the police” by analyzing hours of body camera footage and classifying officers as “professional” or “unprofessional.”

“When body cameras were rolled out to the 18,000 departments in the U.S., they were meant to usher in a new era of police trust,” Truleo’s mission statement reads. “But trust in the police has not increased… in part because less than 1% of the videos are ever reviewed. Each year 100 million hours of video are sitting in the cloud untouched.”

Truleo analyzes audio recordings from police body cameras and transcribes conversations between officers and civilians, labeling an officer’s language as “insult,” “profanity,” “threat” — or, alternatively, “explanation” or “gratitude.” The technology also labels notable moments during an interaction, such as “arrest,” “frisk” or “use of force.”

Truleo’s software then scores an interaction as “professional” or “unprofessional.”

“Our technology will automatically detect critical events such as uses of force pursuits, frisks and noncompliance incidents," the company's statement announcing the new NYPD contract read. "It will also screen for both professional and unprofessional office language so supervisors can then praise or review officers’ conduct."

The department is entering a pilot program to assess the technology’s effectiveness in improving internal supervision and accountability, a spokesperson for the NYPD wrote in a statement to Gothamist. The spokesperson would not say how many officers would be subject to the new pilot program, how long the program will run or how much it costs.

NYPD officials have not discussed the Truleo pilot program with the Police Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union. The PBA was told about the program by Gothamist.

“The department needs to discuss this pilot program with us before rolling it out, because we have serious questions about its impact on our members’ privacy and the fairness of the disciplinary process,” PBA President Patrick Hendry said in a statement to Gothamist.

“New York City police officers are already among the most heavily scrutinized employees in the world," he added. "Saddling them with AI surveillance is not going to help with the NYPD’s recruiting woes or record-level attrition."

Civil rights groups have raised concerns about handing over data from body-worn cameras to private companies. Police body cameras record audio and video of anyone walking or talking around an officer. Officers regularly ask civilians during a frisk or arrest for personal information, like their name or driver's license number.

To address these concerns, Truleo says its technology uses a “voice fingerprint” to separate the voice of the officer wearing the camera from other officers or civilians around them, “anonymizing all other speakers.” Truleo also says on its website that it only extracts audio from body-worn camera footage, not video.

According to the company, it “can” automatically redact personally identifiable information, including names, addresses, license plates and driver's license numbers, to protect civilian privacy.

A spokesperson for Truleo did not respond to a list of questions about whether the company will definitively redact that information as part of the NYPD pilot program or whether the company stores audio data, and for how long.

Since its founding in 2021, Truleo has partnered with 20 police departments across the U.S., according to a July report from Fox News. The company reached $500,000 in investments in April and raised more than $840,000 in its last round of crowdfunding, which closed this week.

In September, Paterson, New Jersey, became the first police department in the tristate area to use AI to analyze all body-worn camera footage. New Jersey officials rolled out Truleo’s technology after a state takeover of Paterson's police department earlier this year. Isa Abbassi, a longtime NYPD official appointed by the New Jersey attorney general to oversee the takeover, has championed the technology.

Body camera footage has played a critical role in investigations into alleged police misconduct in recent years. Data from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the city’s independent police watchdog agency, show the footage has made it much easier for investigators to determine if officers have violated department policy. But the agency has struggled to get body camera footage from the NYPD in the past, and it’s unclear if Truleo data will be shared with the agency.