Good cop cameras, bad rules: The NYPD's body-cam guidelines need fixing

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
April 13, 2017

Last summer, the NYPD asked New Yorkers what rules should apply to the body-worn cameras that police will soon begin wearing. The response was overwhelming: More than 25,000 people responded to the department’s survey. The community asked for policies that would make the camera program more transparent, so that the footage can make cops more accountable to the people.

Last week, the NYPD announced its new body-worn camera policy. Turns out, the NYPD isn’t actually that interested in what the public thinks.

More than six out of 10 (64%) of the New Yorkers who replied to its survey favored officers recording “all interactions with members of the public.” That’s a good idea. If officers are required to have their cameras on, then when a situation suddenly escalates, cameras will already be rolling. But the NYPD discounted this concern. The new policy lets officers decide, in many situations, whether and when to turn their cameras on.

The public overwhelmingly agreed that the NYPD should be required to show people the footage of their own encounters with police officers upon request. This is especially important for people who may be filing police misconduct complaints. Leading departments around the country — from Washington to Las Vegas — have established simple, streamlined processes that allow recorded individuals to view footage at district stations.

But the NYPD is refusing to take this step. Instead, it will require footage requesters go through the slow and ill-suited Freedom of Information Law public records process — the same one you’d have to use to get, say, the mayor’s travel records.

To date, when people have used the FOIL process to request footage from the tiny number of body cameras already deployed in an experiment, the NYPD has stood in the way, charging the public exorbitant fees and claiming broad exemptions. In order for body-worn cameras to provide even basic transparency or accountability, the department must do more.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said that in use-of-force cases, officers should always be required to give a statement before they watch the body camera footage. Videos may show a limited perspective of what actually happened, and can often be interpreted in different ways. Research has shown that watching videos of an event will skew people’s memories of what happened.

Read the full piece at the NY Daily News