As New York Officials Unite Behind Police Body Camera Plans, Union Head Just Wants To Talk About 'Baseless' Lawsuits

from the always-the-public's-fault dept

It seems inevitable that NYPD officers will be wearing body cameras in the near future. As part of the remedies ordered by Judge Scheindlin in her stop-and-frisk decision, a trial program for body cameras is due to roll out, along with additional oversight.

I am ordering the NYPD to institute a pilot project in which bodyworn cameras will be worn for a one-year period by officers on patrol in one precinct per borough -- specifically the precinct with the highest number of stops during 2012.
The two former defenders of the cop status quo -- Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly -- both hated the idea. Bloomberg derided it in a press conference after Scheindlin's decision, saying the public would contest any body cam footage that didn't live up to preconceived notions.
A camera on the lapel or hat of a police officer... He didn't turn the right way. My god, he DELIBERATELY did it. It's a solution that's not a solution…
The city's lawyers, appealing Scheindlin's decision, made the disingenuous argument that the public's privacy would be damaged by police body cameras.
[I]mplementing a body camera pilot project itself poses significant harm in terms of time, resources and possible impingement on privacy rights of the public.
Somehow, the thousands of surveillance cameras deployed by the NYPD pose no threat to privacy. Only those worn (under protest) by officers do.

But Bloomberg and Kelly are no longer co-helming the NYPD. In a press conference following Eric Garner's death at the hands of NYPD officers, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated he felt body cameras are, for the most part, a "productive" idea.
The body cameras are part of the agreement we reached with the federal judge, but they are complicated[…] I think the basic reality is that it is a technology that we agreed to as part of that settlement, but it’s not something that has been perfected yet, and it’s something that has to be worked on quite a bit to be used on the kind of scale we’re talking about here. But I certainly think it’s a productive idea, and it will, I think, ultimately improve the relationship between police and community.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is also in favor of police-worn cameras.
In an appearance on MSNBC Wednesday morning, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton predicted officers around the country will eventually be wearing video cameras on their bodies to record interactions with the public.

"That's the direction where American policing is going. That's where we're going in the NYPD. We're working very closely with the LAPD, who's about a year ahead of us in putting cameras in place," he said.
What evidence exists as to body cameras and their impact on both police misconduct and baseless complaints is very limited at this point. But what has been gathered so far is largely positive -- both for police departments and citizens. Rialto, CA's police department ran a body camera test program and was pleasantly surprised by the results.
The Rialto study began in February 2012 and will run until this July. The results from the first 12 months are striking. Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.
It doesn't just encourage police officers to behave better and with more restraint, it also heads off bogus misconduct complaints. If both parties know they're being recorded, both parties behave better and are less likely to misconstrue events.

New York's Public Advocate's office has just released a report supporting the use of body cameras by the NYPD. It notes that the investment required to outfit the entire NYPD is only a small fraction of the millions of dollars paid out every year to settle police misconduct cases.
The public advocate's office estimates that equipping 15 percent of the city's police force would cost under $5 million, with each camera costing $450 to $900. Outfitting the entire department would run about $32 million…

The city paid roughly $152 million as a result of claims of police misconduct, the report states.
The cost for the entire NYPD is only one-fifth of one year's settlements. If the cameras are only half as effective as they were in Rialto in terms of reducing complaints, the corresponding savings in settlements should be enough to buy every cop in the city a new body cam every year. If a reduction in complaints tracks almost directly with the number of lawsuits settled, this would result in a minimum of a $50-60 million drop in settlements. And that's at half the 88% drop in complaints reported by Rialto's PD.

Guess who doesn't want to see police officers outfitted with body cams? Unlike last year, both the mayor and the police commissioner are on board with the idea. The holdout here is the walking embarrassment that is Pat Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association (the largest union within the NYPD), whom we last heard decrying the cellphone-wielding citizens trying to "demonize" cops with their recordings of police brutality. Here's Pat on the issue of body cameras.
"We are reserving our decision on body cameras until we see some real evidence of their effectiveness and impact on the officers who carry them. The Public Advocate cites the $152 million that the city spends on lawsuits against police officers but what she fails to say is that the city refuses to fight even the most ridiculous and baseless of the claims. Instead, they settle these ridiculous suits when they should fight everyone of them to conclusion which would effectively put an end to quick buck lawsuits against our officers."
Hey, Pat: you know what else "effectively puts an end to quick buck lawsuits against officers?" Body cameras. When parties know the situation is being recorded, the quick bucksters are less likely to file complaints they know can easily be contradicted. Putting body cameras on officers actually helps shield them from bogus complaints.

And if your problem is that the city rolls over for "ridiculous and baseless claims," why not give your officers a weapon to help battle those? In this day and age, "your word against mine" just isn't enough, even with prosecutors and judges still more than willing to assume a police officer always tells the truth.

The "downside," of course, is that is that body cameras also record bad behavior by police officers. For Pat Lynch, this potential outcome is unacceptable. It's much, much harder to defend officers whose misconduct is caught on tape. (But not impossible…) And police union leaders are known for their willingness to defend the worst of the worst, even in the face of public outcry or, even worse, when police departments are trying to rid themselves of bad cops they can no longer afford to indulge.

If Lynch is tired of his officers being "demonized" by camera-wielding citizens, he should jump at this chance to give his officers a chance to fight back with recordings of their own. Instead, he just spins the Public Advocate's settlement numbers as an indicator of a city too willing to indulge baseless lawsuits. His cops can do no wrong and are oppressed by the tyranny of the public. But rather than give his men the technology to prove his theories, he argues against it, claiming this particular jury is still out.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 10:51pm

    Interesting name

    president of the Police Benevolent Association (the largest union within the NYPD)

    'Police' and 'Benevolent' are not usually words I see together, or associate with each other very often these days.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 12:33am

    His cops can do no wrong and are oppressed by the tyranny of the public.

    As public servants how can police be tyrannized by the public,or is Lynch complaining that cameras might force the police to serve the public?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 1:14am

    One thing noticeably missing in the well equipped police force of Ferguson is cameras. They have them, why aren't they using them?

    There would have been no issue over the shooting of Mike Brown and no question as to what happened where the cameras in action. It would have been open and shut with no doubts who did what and why. If provable by camera there would have been no riots as it would verify the officer's statements as to what occurred.

    As it is, it looks pretty damning that the officer claims they both wrestled over the gun at the car, yet the body was 35 feet away from the car. Add to this the body stayed out on the street for hours and it paints a picture that isn't pretty.

    Best interaction with the public is provable honesty or reasonable force. Cameras can prove that every day.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 2:15am

    Somehow, the thousands of surveillance cameras deployed by the NYPD pose no threat to privacy. Only those worn (under protest) by officers do.

    You have to remember that police officers do enter into private property on a regular basis. These cameras could touch off a whole new round of issues in regards to what an officer sees while they are inside a private property. Imagine if an officer doesn't see anything while taking a robbery report, but someone later looks at the video (for whatever reason) and notices a weapon or drugs that the officer did not originally notice. Would that review of the view violate privacy?

    Moreover, would the admissions of a suspect caught on camera bu perhaps not noted by the officer be able to be held against them, even if it's recorded in a private residence?

    There are pluses and minuses to the cameras. I think that Ferguson likely would have turned out differently, in part because neither the officer or the kid would want to be caught out as the aggressor.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 3:56am

    Re:

    Because cop's word is believed over the peasants what use do they have for those pesky facts that can't be changed at their convience?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 4:36am

    It's interesting. The claim is that there isn't enough data to support the 88% figure or that the cameras are effective in anyway so let's not use them. No mention of a pilot program to, you know, generate the goddamn data. Every city has stats and administration based on individual sectors, at least if the city is big enough like New York so there's nothing preventing them from trying it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 5:16am

    Re:

    Members of the public need to understand they can no longer bang their heads upon the police fists, it hurts their feelings and results in a traumatized police force.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 5:17am

    Re: Re:

    "Because cop's word is believed"

    Not so much anymore.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 5:21am

    Re:

    "You have to remember that police officers do enter into private property on a regular basis."

    Yup, these cameras just might show the world how this B&E is performed outside the letter of the law. That would be terrible for the PD PR situation, so best leave the cams off when going rouge. Certainly the cam should be turned off prior to shooting any family pets and damaging personal possessions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 5:50am

    Re:

    "If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 7:20am

    Re:

    Moreover, would the admissions of a suspect caught on camera bu perhaps not noted by the officer be able to be held against them, even if it's recorded in a private residence?


    It's pretty much the same whether the officer heard it or the camera did, except that one might be more credible. All they have to do is make have officer testify that he was in fact wearing the camera, and they can admit it as evidence.

    Imagine if an officer doesn't see anything while taking a robbery report, but someone later looks at the video (for whatever reason) and notices a weapon or drugs that the officer did not originally notice. Would that review of the view violate privacy?


    Anything captured by the camera was almost certainly viewable by the officer (regardless of if he actually viewed it.) The only way the camera would be a privacy violation is if the officer's presence is a privacy violation. (The camera does, admittedly, make any privacy violations worse, but it also documents them.)

    If someone files an FOIA request to get footage inside someone's house, that could be a privacy problem. I'm not sure how you balance that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 7:54am

    Re:

    "You have to remember that police officers do enter into private property on a regular basis."

    That's right. And when they do, they are effectively representing the public. I don't see the problem.

    "These cameras could touch off a whole new round of issues in regards to what an officer sees while they are inside a private property."

    Very likely, yes. And we'll work through those issues when it happens. I don't see how this is an argument against police body cameras.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re:

    just to be snide, do you really think filling a FOIA request would go through with the NYPD?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    the middle road, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re:

    probably I will get critized for this but here we go,

    It is healthy to critize and monitor those in authority. You must also remember that there are a lot of good honest cops out there that do serve and protect people. A lot of stories on Techdirt about cops highlight the bad that they have done.
    Most cops are just trying to do their job in some cases the job is in a very hostile area due to the bad apples that have poisoned the populace before. So I would say most cops deserve the respect of the populace when they are on duty. Just look at the state troopers in ferguson.
    I would bet that most honest cops would love a body camera just because it would make their job easier and safer if everyone knows the interaction between cops and public is recorded.

    The people that oppose body cameras may have a good point that there are privacy issues to work out, and I think we could overcome those issues too. But there is also evidence to show that cops are trying to hide bad behavior. For that reason alone I would love to see body cameras worn by cops.
    Something else to think about is if you had to wear a camera all day at work. You might think it is a great idea because you can now show off all the great things you do. But now consider you have a micromanaging boss that gets to review that footage, you would be critized for wasting extra time away from your assigned tasked.
    Most likely the public won't care about a cops activities 100% of the time and only want to see footage when there is an incident to review. If cameras are used as a tool to discover what really happened during an incident then great. If the camera is used to micromanage the cops then the system will be doomed to fail.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 9:15am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "If the camera is used to micromanage the cops then the system will be doomed to fail."

    That would be a problem with management, not the camera. Further, that would also be the camera just highlighting a management problem that existed anyway, not creating a new one.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Zero, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 9:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You make some interesting points here. We know there are decent cops who are in law enforcement these days who wish to rid their ranks of these bad ones. Given that the recent years have shown recording is way up with law enforcement, it's no surprise that some cities are seriously considering it.

    My opinion is that there needs to be a measure of reciprocity with the citizens and law enforcement. Body cams worn by officers is one step, but we'll see how that's implemented. It seems when entering a private residence, consent should be acquired by the resident before entering/questioning/recording. One issue could be whether or not the refusal of recording by the resident could indicate guilt (as in refusal of a search/inspection).

    Another item SHOULD be that whenever an officer cites a law/statute/policy/etc. to a citizen (before leading up to an arrest or detainment), they also provide the evidence of said law/statute/policy to the citizen. How many officers/security guards/etc. think they know a law or policy as a pretext to detain or arrest someone? Some do, most do not. For transparency and as a citizen, it should be presented to me in writing (or via official online source)the a law or policy I've evidently broken or committed before I'm arrested. This is directed to those questionable laws/policies cited without proof by officers as means of making an arrest.

    If they can't show verifiable proof to the arrestee/citizen, then said law/policy does not exist and any act on behalf of the officer resulting from the frabrication should not be tolerated.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 11:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "It seems when entering a private residence, consent should be acquired by the resident before entering/questioning/recording."

    Such consent is already required whether or not body cameras are in use, except under certain well-defined circumstances (having a warrant, etc.) Nothing new is needed for this.

    "One issue could be whether or not the refusal of recording by the resident could indicate guilt (as in refusal of a search/inspection)."

    Refusing a search or inspection does not indicate guilt right now, either. It might irritate the cop and make them treat you more harshly, but it doesn't indicate guilt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 2:33pm

    Operation

    My question would be, do the officers have the ability to turn the cameras on and off?

    Because if they do, then the bad cops will just shut them off before dispensing a little street justice. And if they don't, then there are issues that will come up regarding officer privacy and informants.

    While it's true that a cop doesn't enjoy an expectation of privacy when out working a crime scene or other public performance of duty, he/she does have a privacy expectation at times during an 8-hour tour of duty. Meal breaks, personal conversations with partner and phone calls to family, bathroom breaks, etc. The public isn't entitled to eavesdrop on any of that.

    Additionally, working informants is a key aspect of policing and way that a significant number of crimes are solved. If the cops can't turn off the cameras, no informant with half a brain will ever talk to a cop again knowing he's being recorded.

    Seems like a Catch-22. Either way you go with the cameras, there's a downside.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Re:

    > so best leave the cams off when going rouge

    How does 'going rouge' work? Do the cops paint themselves all over with crimson body paint?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 3:28pm

    Re: Interesting name

    How very 1984.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    9Blu (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Operation

    One way to address this would be to borrow some simple tech from private dash cams which have crash detection. If the officer turns the camera "off", have it not turn off but instead remain on but not writing to storage, just buffering the last x minutes to RAM or other volatile storage. If the device detects certain activity like a physical altercation (via a accelerometer) or close gunshot (microphone) it writes out the buffer and automatically begins recording. That way the officer can go "off the record" yet if something extraordinary happens it would be captured.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 5:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "It seems when entering a private residence, consent should be acquired by the resident before entering/questioning/recording. "

    What - you mean they do not have a warrant?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 5:17pm

    Re: Operation

    I've seen it mentioned before, but one possible way to deal with that is to make it so that in any event not recorded by the camera, the suspect's word is automatically taken as truth.

    So cop turns the camera off, or it experiences a 'technical glitch' and fails to record an altercation. Cop says the suspect attacked them, and they had to defend themselves, hence why the suspect is bruised and battered in several places. Suspect says the opposite, that the cop just started beating them for whatever reason.

    Because the camera failed to record the event, the suspect, not the cop, is the one presumed to be telling the truth, and it's handled accordingly.

    Give them some real motivation to keep the camera rolling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 5:18pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think they yell "Mavrick" and bust in.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    JMT (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 7:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "You must also remember that there are a lot of good honest cops out there that do serve and protect people."

    Probably true, so it's a shame all these good cops appear to be completely silent on the actions of bad cops. Considering how the actions of bad cops indirectly puts all cops at risk, you'd think they'd be the loudest critics. But they aren't, so it gets harder and harder to give them the benefit of the doubt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Aug 16th, 2014 @ 2:16pm

    Re: Re: Operation

    > Because the camera failed to record the event,
    > the suspect, not the cop, is the one presumed
    > to be telling the truth

    Legal presumptions are always rebuttable, however.

    If the suspect has a long criminal history, his reputation for dishonesty can be introduced to rebut the presumption of his truthfulness in the specific case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2014 @ 6:16pm

    Re: Operation

    Another solution is to specify that policemen are only policemen when they can present video of their actions to everyone present.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Eamonn o Brien, Jan 2nd, 2015 @ 4:35pm

    Re: Re: Operation

    Can believe the country off the free is no better then Russia .amazed

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Support Techdirt - Get Great Stuff!

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.