New York Police Union Sues NYPD To Block Public Release Of Body Camera Footage

from the PBA-not-interested-in-having-public-servants-serve-the-public dept

The route to equipping the NYPD with body cameras ran through a federal courtroom. As part of the remedies handed down in a civil rights lawsuit against the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, body cameras became required equipment for officers.

NYPD officials seemed to support the plan. Not so the ostensible representative of the NYPD, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA). The NYPD’s union fought the cameras much as they have fought anything with a hint of accountability. A report by the NYPD’s internal oversight found officers much less concerned about body cameras and access to footage than their supposed union reps.

A long-delayed camera policy finally rolled out, making it clear cameras would serve officers and prosecutors much more than they would the general public. Now, the PBA is going to court to block the release of camera footage to the public. The PBA hopes the court will read public records laws the way it does, tossing body cam footage into the gaping hole of New York public records exemptions.

The union points to a New York statute, Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, that declares “all personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion” must be “confidential and not subject to inspection or review,” permitting their release only with the consent of the police officer or a court order. According to the union, body camera footage should be considered such personnel records.

The exemption is already awful, distancing officers from accountability by ensuring the public cannot access anything related to disciplinary actions or internal investigations. If a court finds in favor of the PBA, footage captured by officers while performing their duties in public would suddenly become internal records the NYPD would be forbidden by state law from releasing.

This would completely subvert one of the key public benefits of body cameras. As the ACLU points out, denying access to footage to the public turns body cameras into spywear.

A win for the PBA would turn body cameras, paid for with millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, into yet another NYPD mass surveillance tool to be used against vulnerable New Yorkers. Public support for body cameras will not last if the police accountability aspect of the devices is erased and they simply become public surveillance devices.

This would be a devastating blow for holding officers responsible for their actions and would negate the potential value body cameras could add to improving police-community relations.

The PBA is taking an extreme stance on this issue, which places the union in apparent opposition of the officers it represents. The lawsuit also names the NYPD as a defendant. The department has argued body cam footage is not a “personnel record,” but is documentation of an event. According to the NYPD’s arguments, it retains the right to release footage at its discretion after making any redactions necessary to comply with New York privacy laws.

The NYPD is finally trying to do something to repair its relationship with the communities they serve by releasing footage of controversial incidents. No sooner does the NYPD take a small step towards transparency and accountability than Pat Lynch and the PBA arrive on the scene to sue this urge into submission. The public isn’t being served by this public sector union. Considering the PBA is suing the employer of the officers it represents, it could be argued the union isn’t doing much to serve its members either. This lawsuit pit officers against the public at a crucial time when taking a less antagonistic stance would be far more beneficial.

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Comments on “New York Police Union Sues NYPD To Block Public Release Of Body Camera Footage”

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21 Comments
Agammamon says:

I wonder if the unions have any idea how they are perceived.

Make no mistake, nobody likes the NYPD, but when a bad cop is caught people say ‘well, it happens – one bad apple, etc’.

When the police brass try to discipline officers people say ‘well, look, they’re *trying*’.

Then the union comes in and says ‘no, its perfectly normal police procedure to strong-arm rob a bodega so these cops didn’t know they were doing anything wrong so you must re-instate them’ and people say ‘WTF is wrong with you?!’

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They may not, but unless those they ‘represent’ similarly do not care about their public image(which is entirely possible to be sure), they should really be at least attempting damage control, like public statements that despite the fact that their union holds position X, that position is not held by the officers, as without that public perception is that the union position is the position of it’s members, whether they like it or not.

If you pay someone to look after your best interests, and they instead go around making you look even worse, then I think it’s safe to say you’re not getting your money’s worth and should see about fixing the problem, whether that be replacing the ones making you look bad, or if all else fails simply stop paying them and deal with the fallout from that.

Pixelation says:

The problem

The lack of accountability has to be the main driving factor for people who have contempt/hatred of the police. The NY union members should look in the mirror if they are wondering what is causing the problem. Blue Lives Matter, BUT they need to be held to a high standard and keeping the public in the dark is not the way to go about it. It seems that there are a lot of criminals in blue and the NY union wants to keep it that way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The problem

In Baltimore, an entire unit of the police department — including personnel from internal affairs — has been operating as a gang, including:

– theft (money, drugs, guns)
– drug and gun sales
– extortion
– destruction of evidence
– planting evidence (e.g., guns)
– fraud against the department
– fake/duplicate badges
– perjury in hundreds of criminal cases
– evidence theft, evidence destruction

and more. Read @justin_fentons timeline – he’s a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Then read @baynardwood’s – he’s a reporter for a local alternate newspaper.

In other words, for the last decade, the BPD has been inciting and exacerbating violence against the citizens whose taxes pay their salaries. And there is still the unsolved murder of Detective Suiter, who was mysteriously killed the day before he was scheduled to testify to the feds about all this.

I. Ron Ich says:

Thus all body-worn camera footage becomes PRIVATE personnel records,

and ineligible to be used as evidence in ANY FORM, therefore BARRING its use in prosecutions or any other form of law enforcement, and officers will cease and desist from relying on it, forbidden from even mentioning it, in ANY jurisdiction, for all perpetuity.

In the alternative, ALL RAW footage will be turned over to defendant’s legal representative in its unedited entirety.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As I read it, the argument is something like:

  • When an officer is accused of a violation, the disciplinary review which follows is an employee performance review.
  • In the course of such disciplinary reviews, video recordings from the body-worn cameras of the officers in question will be reviewed.
  • Therefore, the video recordings in question – having been used in an employee performance review – are performance-review records.
  • The possibility that any given body-worn-camera video recording will be drawn on in a future disciplinary review is such that all such recordings must be presumed to be performance-review records, in order to avoid having such records be already public (in violation of the exemption) when the review is called for.
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

With the presumption that publicly released recordings would adversely influence any disciplinary action. Meaning that the public’s perception of a recording is better than a cop’s testimony that refutes that perception.

The cop’s word is not better than the video, but some courts, or perhaps jury’s seem to think the cop is more honest than the recording. Videos do not lie, some cops do, but videos can be misinterpreted, either to the benefit of the cop or to the benefit of charges against them. The latter is what they hope to prevent.

malaclypse2 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Makes sense to me. Next it will be:

  • When an officer is accused of a violation, the disciplinary review which follows is an employee performance review.
  • In the course of such disciplinary reviews, all of an officers casework, emails, texts, reports and other work product will be reviewed.
  • Therefore, the works in question – having been used in an employee performance review – are performance-review records.
  • Therefore no such paperwork, emails, or other records can be disclosed to the public.
    Think of the savings.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Couple cops rape a detained girl, 9 others show up at the hospital to intimidate her…
I don’t remember any PBA statements.

Couple of cops decide to abuse human rectums with nightsticks & other objects…
I don’t remember any PBA statements.

Someone suggests there be accountability for police.
PBA screams its the end of the world.

Someone suggests applying the same rules to cops as others.
PBA screams how it is unfair.

NYPD racial profiles, gets spanked.
PBA screams how wrong it is to pick on them.

NYPD abuses their position, PBA loudly complains how its scary to be a cop & they totally should be allowed to ignore petty little laws.

PBA – Its like the mob… with badges.

Dave P. says:

Little point

There seems little point in having body cameras at all if third parties are not able to access the data to check what the wearer has been up to. Not sure how we stand on my UK side of the pond. I think our coppers use them, having seen information about a TV documentary about them and recent footage on the news of police attending a knife murder in a car park near me, so I assume that things are different here.

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