Advocates: Officers Have Too Much Leeway to Review NYPD Body Camera Footage

April 21, 2017
Bobby Cuza
NY1 News

NYPD body cameras are supposed to create police transparency and accountability, but police reform advocates are now seeking to block the program, arguing it could instead have the effect of protecting abusive officers. NY1's Bobby Cuza has the story.

The NYPD's court-ordered body camera program was the product of a lawsuit challenging the department's stop-and-frisk policy.

But now that a pilot program is on the verge of implementation, plaintiffs in that suit want to call timeout.

"We are hopeful that we will have a pause on the implementation," said Lurie Daniel Favors of the Center for Law and Social Justice.

Last week, a court-appointed monitor approved the NYPD's guidelines for just how, exactly, the cameras will be used.

But advocates went to court this week, asking the judge in the case to intervene; that included a brief filed Thursday by the group Communities United for Police Reform.

They say under the NYPD's protocols, officers will have too much leeway. They must record many, but not all encounters with the public, and there will be no disciplinary process for officers who tamper with footage.

"We need a policy that is going to mandate that the typical day-to-day encounters, that quickly escalate from a stop to an arrest, are going to be recorded," Favors said.

At a news conference outside City Hall on Thursday, advocates noted that while civilians captured on camera won't have easy access to footage, officers will be able to view video before making a statement, even in cases of alleged misconduct.

"If they have an opportunity to review all of this prior to writing the reports, they can structure their reports so that it is not contradicted by the evidence on the camera," said David Rankin, an attorney for Communities United for Police Reform.

NY1 is currently engaged in a lawsuit seeking access to footage from an earlier pilot program in 2015.

As for the recently issued guidelines, city officials have defended them.

"This is the shape of things to come," Mayor Bill de Blasio said April 10. "If anybody wants to challenge us, we can win that challenge, I am confident."

The pilot program was supposed to begin next week at the 34th Precinct in Upper Manhattan, and then expand to some 1,200 officers this fall, and then to all NYPD patrol officers by 2019.

But this latest legal challenge now puts that timetable in jeopardy.

Topics: Police Body-Worn Cameras