Community activists in New York are disappointed in a new policy on body cameras released today by the NYPD. The city plans to roll out 1,000 to 1,200 body cameras for officers in 20 districts in a pilot program set to begin shortly.
“The NYPD’s newly released body camera policy fails New Yorkers and police transparency – it won’t help address police brutality, abuses and unjust killings of New Yorkers,” said Mandela Jones, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform (CPR). “Body cameras are no solution or substitute for accountability, but they can enhance transparency – however critical flaws in the policy undermine efforts to hold police accountable for brutality, and instead provide mechanisms to protect abusive officers instead of the public. New York City should not deploy body worn cameras unless the significant flaws in the policy that undermine transparency and accountability are addressed.”
Members of CPR are amongst the plaintiffs of the federal litigation that mandated the pilot program.
The New York Civil Liberties Union identified three serious shortcomings in the policy:
- The NYPD’s policy does not require that cameras record all police investigative encounters, despite the potential for low-level encounters to quickly escalate. We are also skeptical of the department’s commitment to disciplining officers who disregard the policy, even if they willfully do not turn on cameras when required.
- Officers will be allowed to view recordings of incidents before they write their initial reports or provide official statements, which allows offers to tailor their version of events to what was recorded and undermines the cameras’ effectiveness as an accountability tool.
- There is no clear and simple way for people outside the NYPD to review footage. Since the NYPD insists that its officers will be able to review footage, it’s only fair that the public, including people who have been arrested or who file complaints against officers, be given access, too.
CPR noted that the process for soliciting community input was also seriously flawed. “It’s highly troubling that the public comment process also failed New Yorkers most impacted by abusive policing, choosing to prioritize restrictions to accommodate the NYPD instead of prioritizing meaningful input and influence from affected New Yorkers,” Jones noted. “This is not the way to advance police transparency and accountability and it’s shameful that the de Blasio administration is once again turning its back on New Yorkers affected by abusive policing.”
The public comment process not only failed to survey a racially representative sample of New Yorkers most impacted by stop-and-frisk, which continues to be over 80% Black and Latino, it failed to even reflect the proportion of Black and Latino New Yorkers in NYC. For the public comment process administered by the Policing Project, 15% of respondents were Black, despite Black New Yorkers being 22% of NYC’s population and 54% of all stop-and-frisks in 2016. 11% of survey respondents were Latino, despite Latino New Yorkers being 29% of NYC’s population and stop-and-frisks in 2016. 60% of survey respondents were white, despite white New Yorkers being only 33% of NYC’s population and 10% of stop-and-frisk in 2016.
The new policy is available in appendix B of this document.