Report On NYPD Body Camera Program Shows Police Union Doesn't Speak For Officers, Mostly Full Of Shit

from the we-speak-for-all-of-our-officers,-but-mostly-for-our-worst-ones dept

The NYPD's long-resisted body camera program has been instituted on a limited basis. The NYPD's Office of the Inspector General has released a report detailing the first several months of a voluntary pilot program by the NYPD, which went into effect ahead of the camera program ordered by Judge Scheindlin after declaring portions of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional.

In an effort to limit possible privacy violations, the NYPD instructed officers to use cameras in every encounter involving reasonable suspicion and their personal discretion in other cases. Unfortunately, this reliance on officer discretion led to many officers interpreting the somewhat-vague instructions as "reasonable suspicion only." Because of this, many situations warranting recorded footage went without.

Ultimately, OIG-NYPD has found that NYPD’s reliance on a “reasonable suspicion” standard for when activation of BWC’s [body-worn camera] is mandatory is too restrictive to fully capture the wide range of police-community encounters. Reasonable suspicion may also be an impractical threshold given the dynamic nature of law enforcement-related situations. Critical events often transpire before an encounter rises to the level of reasonable suspicion, and an officer may find it difficult to initiate a recording while an event is unfolding.
To that end, the OIG recommends a two-pronged approach to recording encounters, broadening on one end and narrowing it on the other.
Because the “reasonable suspicion” standard for BWC activation presents multiple challenges, NYPD should broaden the situations where BWCs should be activated, including all street encounters or all investigative contacts.
But…
Prior to any expansion of the BWC program, NYPD should work with New York City’s five District Attorney’s Offices to consider general prohibitions and restrictions on recording when officers become aware they are interacting with certain classes of individuals. These may include victims of sex crimes, abused children, undercover officers, confidential or citizen informants, and witnesses.
The OIG suggests notifying citizens an interaction is being recorded, but also warns this directive cannot be the final word on the subject as many encounters will make this notification either unnecessary or impractical.

The report also dives into the issues presented by the footage itself -- who controls it, when it can be released, and who gets to view it and when. First, it advocates for open access to the footage by supervisors, but not solely for misconduct-trolling operations.
Supervisors should have general access to footage for emergent investigative and quality assurance purposes. However, NYPD should make it a clear violation of policy for any supervisor to arbitrarily review footage solely to uncover violations or to use BWC videos to selectively discipline officers for minor infractions.
The report also recommends something that's highly unlikely to be adopted by the police union, which has fought body cameras since day one.
NYPD should prohibit pre-statement review of BWC recordings for internal or external investigations regarding officer misconduct. Officers should be restricted from viewing footage of an incident when they are a subject or a witness in an internal or external investigation until after the officer has provided an official statement.
This directly clashes with most police union contracts/officers' "bill of rights" which generally give officers involved in certain incidents (mainly shootings) access to all evidence (which would include their own recordings) and a "cooling off" period of two or three days before answering questions about the incident. This recommendation would disrupt any "rights" currently in place for NYPD officers. If this manages to survive a challenge from the union, it would be a large step towards preventing narratives from morphing to fit captured footage.

The report points out that the objections raised by the New York police union (Policemen's Benevolent Association) prior to the institution of the program haven't been echoed by the police officers themselves.
In response to OIG-NYPD’s inquiry, the PBA has argued that any requirement for officers to activate their BWC’s will place them in danger by forcing them to manage more tasks than they are accustomed to undertaking during dynamic enforcement encounters, and causing them to hesitate while activating their BWCs. They also contend that the BWCs themselves may be the targets of theft or increased violence by perpetrators. NYPD officers surveyed by OIG-NYPD, however, denied the claims raised by the PBA, noting the ease with which the cameras can be activated either by tapping a large button or sliding a panel on the front of the camera. While they expressed some concerns about newer officers’ ability to police effectively while making decisions regarding when BWCs should be activated, they stated that their experience allows them to focus on citizen encounters without hesitation, while integrating the task of activating their BWCs whenever possible.
The baselessness of the "increased violence by perpetrators" claim is further illuminated later in the report while discussing officers' announcements to suspects and citizens that a recording is in progress.
Several of the officers participating in the Volunteer BWC Pilot Program who were surveyed by OIG-NYPD stated not only that they regularly, if not always, issue notifications to members of the public that a BWC is in use, but that such notifications were successful in quickly calming tense encounters, in particular traffic stops, and deterring verbal abuse against officers. Indeed, no officer surveyed recalled an instance in which a citizen’s knowledge that a BWC was in use further angered the person or escalated the encounter.
Also, unlike the PBA, which has regularly pushed for officers to have access to all information (recorded or otherwise) on hand before answering questions about alleged misconduct, the NYPD officers involved in this voluntary pilot program felt no need to have access to body camera recordings.
NYPD officers interviewed by OIG-NYPD did not themselves appear particularly concerned about having the ability to review their recordings in any context. Only one officer reported reviewing footage after capturing it, with the majority stating that their experience with policing and their personal knowledge of incidents they handled obviated the need to review their BWC video.
For what it's worth, the suggestions resulting from this trial period point towards greater transparency and accountability. The results also show police officers are far less concerned about the issues raised by the PBA than the union would have city officials believe. This indicates the police union doesn't really represent a majority of NYPD officers. It really only represents the worst of them -- the officers who benefit the most from decreased transparency and accountability.

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Filed Under: body cameras, nypd, pba, police, union


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 10 Aug 2015 @ 2:19pm

    When your union is actively working against you

    If the union isn't representing the majority of the officers, and is instead focused on 'protecting' the worst of them, then the majority need to demand that the union be replaced by people that accurately represent them.

    The police union is probably the most visible 'face' of the police when it comes to interactions with the press and whatnot, and if it's clearly focused on representing the worst cops, then that is how all of them will be seen as.

    The 'less than rock bottom'(I can't honestly say 'good') cops either need to demand change from/of their union, or accept that they are, and will continue to be, seen as no better than the absolute worst among them because that's what the public sees every time their 'representatives' speak.

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 10 Aug 2015 @ 11:52pm

      Re: When your union is actively working against you

      I think the fact that the union reps have NOT changed is a tacit admission that the "worst cops" are now the majority.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 12:18am

        Re: Re: When your union is actively working against you

        Quite possible, and in fact that is the most likely explanation.

        Even if it isn't however, it's still almost as bad. Either the 'worst' are the majority, or the slightly-better-than-the-worst cops are content to have their union represent not themselves, but the scum, the ones that make them look bad.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 1:58am

        Re: Re: When your union is actively working against you

        Not necessarily. It could be that the worst cops have simply taken over the union. Wouldn't be the first time.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 8:03am

          Re: Re: Re: When your union is actively working against you

          This was my thought. At my work, one of my laziest coworkers, who likes to try to get everyone else to do his work while he gets paid more than us, is the complaint rep for the union. It seems like the people who are busy doing their jobs don't have time to worry about the union because they don't need its protection. It's the bad employees who want to preserve their sweet deal who are interested in maximizing their union protection. This isn't to say that the union is bad - it's why I feel job security and am more motivated to do a good job - but some people take advantage of the fact that management doesn't like having to fight with the union over lazy employees.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2015 @ 2:36pm

    it reads like they only interviewed the GOOD cops, but of course bad cops would never volunteer to have their activities be recorded

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2015 @ 3:00pm

    NYPD’s reliance on a “reasonable suspicion” standard for when activation of BWC’s [body-worn camera] is mandatory is too restrictive to fully capture the wide range of police-community encounters.
    The least valuable time for having the cameras active is when the police are performing activities that involve the word "reasonable".

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

  • identicon
    David Canton, 10 Aug 2015 @ 4:38pm

    Body cams

    I find it interesting that they state that the force can't "use BWC videos to selectively discipline officers for minor infractions." Might that be because certain police officers themselves often selectively discipline certain members of the public for minor infractions?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2015 @ 4:42pm

    Why is that the anti-union types do not call for busting the police unions?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2015 @ 5:20pm

      Re:

      For the same reason that people never openly called for the end of the mafia. All they'll get for their trouble is the gift of a broken leg, and perhaps some permanent muscle damage.

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

    • identicon
      avideogameplayer, 10 Aug 2015 @ 5:22pm

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 10th, 2015 @ 4:42pm

      Considering that most unions can't pull you over, steal your stuff, and shoot you...I wonder why...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2015 @ 7:06pm

      Re:

      Why is it that the pro-union types do?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 5:31am

        Re: Re:

        I doubt that. More like they want the cops to stop illegal activities - like randomly killing people for no apparent reason.

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

  • icon
    Todd Shore (profile), 10 Aug 2015 @ 6:55pm

    There is a need to differentiate between workplace disciple and possible criminal investigation.

    I would suggest that any contract that allows access to evidence in a criminal investigation is itself illegal and can not be made with an officer or the union because doing so would create a special class that would have equal protection problems.

    Maybe if there is a question the department should temporarily forgo the discipline issue and should be more willing to conduct a criminal investigation independent of the department and union relationship should reasonable suspicion arise.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2015 @ 9:35pm

    Wow. It sounds like there might be some decent cops out there after all.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 12:25am

      Anyone can portray a good front in the absence of adversity

      I wouldn't read too much into it. It's easy to pretend that you're one of the moral ones, one of those that believe that justice matters when being asked as part of an investigation when nothing is on the line.

      The real question is, how many of them would suddenly flip their position if they were the ones facing a potentially damning video and really wanted to make sure their statements were 'accurate' and phrased in a way that portrayed their actions as good as possible while still matching what was shown.

      I'm guessing the number that would pass the 'test' at that point would be a handful at best.

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

  • identicon
    teka, 10 Aug 2015 @ 11:09pm

    police union contracts/officers' "bill of rights" which generally give officers involved in certain incidents (mainly shootings) access to all evidence (which would include their own recordings) and a "cooling off" period of two or three days before answering questions about the incident


    Who wouldn't love that?
    Being able to go home and rest while viewing the only hard evidence that can directly contradict your statement, maybe spend a couple hours with a friendly rep who has handled this kind of case before. It would be a great help in custom-crafting your sworn statement, tailoring your statements about when you "feared for your life" and when "a weapon discharged".

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

  • icon
    DNY (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 8:25am

    Privacy?

    There is something a little odd about concerns for privacy in the context of interactions with an agent of the government on a public street. If one is interacting with the police officer, one is by definition under government surveillance -- by the police officer -- and if one is out in public, one has no expectation of privacy. The main point of body cameras is to make sure the officer is under surveillance, though providing a record of interactions to prevent specious accusations of police misconduct (oddly ignored by police unions) is another benefit of their use.

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 11:33pm

    any requirement for officers to activate their BWC’s will place them in danger by forcing them to manage more tasks than they are accustomed to undertaking during dynamic enforcement encounters, and causing them to hesitate while activating their BWCs.


    They had this problem with clicking or un-capping pens, too, which is why they all now use crayons when they aren't too distracted to take notes or write citations.

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


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