New York Police Officers to Start Using Body Cameras in a Pilot Program

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edited September 2014 in The Social Lounge

The New York Police Department will begin equipping a small number of its officers with wearable video cameras, a pilot program geared toward eventually outfitting the nation’s largest police force with technology that promises greater accountability.

A total of 60 cameras will be deployed in the coming months in five high-crime police precincts, one in each of the city’s five boroughs, Commissioner William J. Bratton said on Thursday.

“It is the next wave,” Mr. Bratton said at Police Headquarters with two officers who wore the small cameras on their uniforms. He likened the introduction of cameras to the rollout, decades before, of hand-held police radios whose crackling codes and blips are now a quintessential part of policing everywhere.

Mr. Bratton said the department was proceeding “independent of the order” because the subject is “too important to wait.” The announcement also comes in advance of federal guidelines on body cameras worn by the police, expected to be released by the Justice Department in the coming weeks.

The cameras, which attach to the uniforms officers wear on patrol, can offer visual evidence in he-said-she-said encounters between the police and the public. Calls for all officers to wear them have grown after the fatal shooting by a white officer of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last month.

Darius Charney, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the stop-and-frisk case, criticized the department’s plans to move ahead on the cameras unilaterally.

“This kind of unilateral decision on the part of the N.Y.P.D. is part of the same uncollaborative, nontransparent, go-it-alone approach to police reform we saw with the prior N.Y.P.D. and mayoral administration,” Mr. Charney, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in an email.

The pilot program will hew closely to the judge’s order in some respects, but not in others. The precincts, selected in “direct response” to the order, Mr. Bratton said, include ones in Harlem; the South Bronx; East New York, Brooklyn; Jamaica, Queens; and northeastern Staten Island, where a man accused of selling loose cigarettes, Eric Garner, died after a police chokehold last month.

Mr. Bratton said the cameras would also be given to officers in a police service area covering housing complexes in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

But the department is eschewing the one-year timetable in favor of a less fixed time frame. The program is expected to begin in the fall, but Mr. Bratton did not say how long it would last.

Officers will participate voluntarily, with a goal of having at least one officer wearing a camera on each shift at the selected precincts.

Thousands of small- and medium-size police departments have been using the cameras for the past few years, and many big city police forces, including Los Angeles and Washington, have begun tests or have plans to do so.

But the participation of the New York department, with its 35,000 uniformed members and vast footprint on the country’s policing policy, could permanently shift the balance in favor of the cameras, which both civil libertarians and many police chiefs have cited as a way to improve relations between citizens and law enforcement, particularly in heavily policed minority communities.

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Larry Hoffman 2 hours ago
So the police in Albuquerque have learned to turn their cameras off at inappropriate moments. Not really very smart. Over the last few...
James 2 hours ago
It is interesting to see who is in favor of this and why. It seems clear to me that police officers should be in favor of this and civil...
A Guy 2 hours ago
The last paragraph houses the most important part of the story:"He added that depending on the circumstance, officers could be required to...
In New York’s test, it is not a question of whether the city’s officers will wear video cameras in the future, but how best to have them do so, Mr. Bratton said.

The embrace of cameras, by Mr. Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio, is a major departure from the previous administration, with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg calling them a “nightmare.”

Under Mr. Bratton, police officials went to Los Angeles earlier this year to look at that department’s pilot program for cameras, where the first participants were also volunteers.

The New York police will test cameras made by two manufacturers: a one-piece device from Vievu and a two-piece system from Taser International, in which the battery and activation switches are separate from the camera itself. The companies’ cameras were selected, Mr. Bratton said, because they provide “end-to-end” systems that include storage both on-site and remotely.

The cost of beginning the program is $60,000, Mr. Bratton said, paid for by the Police Foundation, a nonprofit group that raises money for activities not covered in the department’s budget. The cost of storing the video and administering the program is expected to outstrip that amount quickly.

So far, departments around the country have been largely on their own in drafting policies over basic questions, like when the cameras should be turned on. Little research exists on the effect of the cameras on community-police interactions, though studies have suggested their use reduces both citizen complaints and officers’ use of force. Many departments allow the cameras to be employed at the discretion of the officer.

Mr. Bratton said the camera policy had yet to be finalized. He added that depending on the circumstance, officers could be required to record, prohibited from recording, or given the discretion to choose. Officers would be permitted to view video they recorded before making statements in cases where their conduct was questioned, he said.Patrick J. Lynch, the head of the union representing the city’s patrol officers, said in a statement that there were “many unanswered questions as to how this will work practically.”

“We await the answers,” he continued.