Community Groups & New Yorkers Directly Impacted by Abusive Policing File Legal Opposition to NYPD’s Body Camera Policy
Groups urge court to intervene, halt body camera pilot program unless major changes are made to dangerous flaws in policy that impair transparency and accountability
Community members were joined by civil rights attorneys for plaintiffs in lawsuit that produced body camera pilot program, who also filed opposition to NYPD policy
Together with community groups representing New Yorkers directly impacted by abusive policing, Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) announced the filing of legal opposition to the NYPD’s proposed body camera policy. The filing, submitted to Judge Analisa Torres who oversees the litigation that resulted in the body camera pilot program being court-ordered, seeks to halt the program’s rollout next week unless major changes are made to the policy. The legal effort raises serious concerns with the policy, urging the court to intervene and require the NYPD make changes prior to the implementation of the court-ordered pilot program. It also requests that the court grant communities most directly affected by stop-and-frisk abuses and other abusive policing with a formal role in evaluating the pilot program, and the court’s process to determine whether or not a broader body camera program should be expanded in New York City.
“[T]he NYPD’s [Body-Worn Camera (BWC)] Proposal undermines [the] three reasons [that the court articulated in its ordering them] and also fails to advance the priorities of police transparency, accountability, and the necessary involvement of New York’s most impacted communities,” the legal filing stated. “Major flaws in the BWC Proposal will, if implemented, undermine reform efforts and instead provide mechanisms to protect abusive officers rather than the public. New York City should not deploy BWC unless the significant flaws in this BWC Proposal are addressed and remedied.”
The court previously stated in its remedial order that “The communities most affected by the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk have a distinct perspective that is highly relevant to crafting effective reforms. No amount of legal or policing expertise can replace a community’s understanding of the likely practical consequences of reforms in terms of both liberty and safety.” The legal action by CPR and directly affected communities seeks to elevate that relevant voice to influence the NYPD’s body camera policy and evaluation of the body camera pilot program.
The filing (accessed here) raised objections to various aspects of the policy, including:
- Loopholes in Mandatory Activation: The NYPD’s policy does not require mandatory activation of recording for the types of common and unconstitutional police interactions that New Yorkers and the classes in the federal stop-and-frisk lawsuit that mandated the pilot program experience.
In its filing, CPR recommends that all Level 1 and Level 2 encounters should explicitly be mandated for recording, since these investigative encounters are experienced by civilians as stops, officers may mischaracterize certain stops (restricting the ability to determine whether a stop was constitutional or not), and level 1 and 2 stops often escalate quickly. The NYPD policy that tells officers to turn on cameras if events escalate is explicit in prioritizing “proper tactics,” which provides a vast loophole that makes it likely rapidly escalating encounters that start at levels not currently mandated for cameras to be recording will not be captured.
- Officers’ Access to Footage: The policy provides officers with blanket permission to view the footage prior to making a statement or submitting a report about an encounter, including when an officer is the subject of an investigation and in allegations of brutality and misconduct. This allows officers to tailor reports and statements to the recording, something many advocates and the inspector general for the NYPD opposed.
CPR recommends that NYPD policy should prohibit officers from reviewing recordings before official reports and statements are submitted.
- Lack of Access to Footage for Members of Public Recorded: The subjects of footage should not be automatically denied and referred to the NYPD legal unit to file a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to access the footage, as the current policy outlines. The NYPD is notorious for denying and delaying access to such requests, and it is contradictory to transparency that victims of police brutality or family members of victims of police killings would have to file a FOIL request to access footage. The NYPD has demonstrated its bad faith in complying with such requests, as it has recently denied FOIL requests by the family of Ramarley Graham, who was killed five years ago by the NYPD. The NYPD has forced his family to file a lawsuit to seek its compliance with FOIL.
CPR recommends that individuals who are the subjects of recordings should be able to access a copy of footage within days. Departments around the country, including Washington and Las Vegas, have established processes that allow individuals to view footage at stations in such a simple manner.
- No Disciplinary Consequences for Violations: Despite CPR, the NYPD inspector general and other organizations recommending that the policy include disciplinary consequences for officers who fail to comply with the policy, the NYPD policy includes none. Numerous localities with body and dash cameras have experienced officers tampering with cameras, altering and deleting footage, failing to consistently record police brutality incidents, and engaging in other violations of their policies.
CPR recommends NYPD policy should transparently include discipline for failing to follow body camera policy or tampering with cameras or footage.
- Lack of Public Involvement & Evaluation: Though the NYPD elicited public comment on theoretical policy positions, the public never saw the NYPD’s body camera policy until a little over a week ago. There was no opportunity for the public to provide feedback on the actual policy.
CPR is requesting in its filing that the court intervene to halt the pilot program it ordered until NYPD policy is revised to address the concerns of communities and the plaintiffs. The filing also requests that the court grant CPR and directly affected communities a formal role in evaluating the pilot program, particularly related to the questions raised in the court’s order of “whether the program should be terminated or expanded.”
The NYPD has been required to conduct a pilot program on body-worn cameras for officers as part of the Federal court ruling that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices were guilty of a pattern and practice of racial profiling and unconstitutional stops. Days ago, the NYPD released its policy for the use of the cameras, and the NYPD disregarded many important concerns raised by advocates, the public, and most importantly community members directly-affected by stop-and-frisk and other police abuses. The body camera policies came under significant criticism from various parties when they were unveiled by the NYPD.
The citywide police reform campaign that includes leadership from New Yorkers directly affected by abusive policing and other community members criticized the policy for being counterproductive to police accountability and transparency, protecting abusive officers instead of the public. http://bit.ly/2nT175j
Civil rights attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing plaintiffs, in the Floyd stop-and-frisk lawsuit opposed the policy for giving too much discretion for officers to avoid taping their policing activity and review footage. https://nyti.ms/2oNStbP
The Bronx Defenders opposed the policy for giving officers the ability to review footage before filing official reports or statements, even when those officers are under investigation. http://www.amny.com/opinion/bad-idea-for-cops-to-review-body-cam-footage-1.13468542
Technology policy researchers described the NYPD policies as creating a “risk [of] turning cameras from tools of accountability into something else entirely.” http://nydn.us/2opOZtH
Technology experts and studies have seconded the views of police reform advocates on the role of cameras – that “without effective guidelines and community input, [they] could fall short of the goal of enhancing accountability and, instead, actually decrease trust in police.” The Los Angeles Police Department has deployed body cameras since August 2015, but recent reporting revealed that several controversial incidents involving police officers have failed to be recorded. The “largest-yet series of experiments on the use of body-worn cameras by police” in eight different UK and U.S. cities by RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge found an increase in the use-of-force if officers had discretion to turn cameras on.
Kumar Rao, Center for Popular Democracy Senior Staff Attorney for Racial Justice, stated: “NYPD’s Body Worn Camera Proposal is missing a number of critical policies necessary to ensure communities of color are protected from unjust, unconstitutional, and ineffective law enforcement practices. It is imperative that any BWC proposal put forth by the NYPD outlines specific guidelines for transparency and accountability. We join with Communities United for Police Reform in calling for the Proposal to be revised to ensure that the concerns of communities of color are reflected in this major policy announcement.”
Cecelia Grant, a member of Picture the Homeless, said: “The city's proposed body-worn camera policy will do nothing to change the NYPD's culture of abuse towards the homeless community. If the videos are not accessible to the subjects of the recordings, if there are no clear disciplinary consequences for failing to follow camera protocol, and if officers have this much discretion over when to record, body-worn cameras are not going to create a safe environment for our fellow New Yorkers who live on the streets. Right now, they have free reign to abuse us, violate our rights, seize and destroy our property, and the proposed body-worn camera policy does nothing to challenge or change that.”
Sue Udry, Executive Director of Defending Rights & Dissent, stated: “These proposed rules twist the province of BWCs from police accountability and transparency into devices of repression and surveillance aimed at the people of the city. The court must step in to ensure BWCs protect the people, not the police.”
Carmen Perez, Founder of Justice League NYC and Co-Chair of The Women's March said: “While we were encouraged to hear that the NYPD had advanced Body Camera policy, the program as outlined is incomplete, does nothing to advance police transparency and accountability, and promises to undermine true police reform. We call on the Mayor and NYPD to work with CPR to craft a policy that reduces harm and increases safety to our communities.”
Deborah Wright, President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys - UAW Local 2325, stated: "Our members have fought hard in the courtrooms and the streets for greater oversight to end police brutality and the harassment of our clients. With this new body-worn camera policy we see only superficial changes to existing standard operating procedures of the NYPD that will not protect our clients, like Eric Garner, who was tragically killed by an NYPD officer while on video. The 1,200 members of our union stand shoulder to shoulder with marginalized communities in New York City to demand the NYPD fully comply with the reforms outlined in Floyd v. New York City for the protection of our clients and communities.”
The following CPR members and partners are signed on to the filing of objections and requests related to the new NYPD body-worn camera policy:
5 Boro Defenders
Arab American Association of New York
Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325
Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice
Audre Lorde Project
Brooklyn Movement Center
Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, City University of New York
Center for Popular Democracy
Community Voices Heard
Churches United for Fair Housing
Defending Rights & Dissent
Faith In New York
Girls for Gender Equity
Global Action Project
Immigrant Defense Project
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice
Justice League NYC
Katal Center for Health, Equity & Justice
Make the Road New York
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Muslim Community Network
New York Communities for Change
NYC Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project
Picture The Homeless
Public Science Project
Rockaway Youth Task Force
Showing Up for Racial Justice - NYC
South Asian Fund for Education, Scholarship and Training
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Urban Youth Collaborative
About Communities United for Police Reform
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment.
CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.