NYPD Finally Comes Up With A Body Camera Policy, And It's Terrible

from the more-tech,-less-transparency dept

Nearly four years after the NYPD was ordered by a federal judge to implement body cameras, the department is finally getting around to finalizing its rule set for deployment. Part of the delay is due to the NYPD seeking input from the public -- input it has apparently decided to ignore.

As Scott Greenfield notes, the NYPD gets everything wrong about its policies, applying guidelines that directly contradict the responses received from everyone in New York City not wearing a blue uniform.

The first “big” question is when will cops be required to turn their body cams on, since having them doesn’t actually serve much of a purpose if they’re turned off.

Notice anything peculiar? Like the public wants them on a lot, and the cops, not so much? But this belies the problem: if body cams must be on for “use of force,” will cops call a “time out” when a situation develops where they decide to tune up a guy who isn’t sufficiently compliant so he can flip the switch? Sure. Who doesn’t honor the sacred “time out”?

But then, the “it depends” on witness interviews is somewhat disconcerting. After all, why record witness interviews, since they might say something inconsistent with the cop’s recollection or their testimony in court? That could be unpleasant.

The public also wants expansive footage release policies. Unsurprisingly, NYPD officers do not. From the NYPD's body-worn camera report [PDF]:

Officers and the public were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “If a person has an interaction with an officer wearing a  body-worn camera, the NYPD should be required to show that person the footage upon request.” Here is how they responded:

Here are the responses for a similar question, but involving third parties like journalists and advocacy groups making requests for footage:

The split is obvious. The public wants access. The NYPD wants sole control. The "compromise" is this:

[T]he 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.

When it comes to New York's open records law, approaching the NYPD for documents is an exercise in futility. The department has been called "worse than the FBI, CIA, and NSA" when it comes to responding to records requests. FOIL lawsuits are minimally effective, as the NYPD is as comfortable with slowly bleeding plaintiffs dry as it is ignoring their requests entirely.

The other twist is this: if you're facing criminal charges and want access to footage of your arrest, etc., you're not going to get any preferential treatment. You also will be forbidden from joining the FOIL line and hearing your request will be ignored in the order it's received. Scott Greenfield breaks this down:

But certainly the defendant is entitled to the video, right?

"There is an important exception with respect to release of body-worn camera footage: if a person is arrested and has a pending criminal case, and seeks body camera footage related to his or her arrest, he or she may not come to the NYPD to circumvent the standard discovery process between the prosecution and the defense. Discovery is governed by New York State Criminal Procedure Law. Criminal defendants are entitled to these recordings under the law, but such requests are handled by prosecutors in accordance with existing criminal discovery practices and procedures."

Discovery? That same criminal procedure process that has been the target of reform for decades because it’s nearly useless?

Unbelievably, the NYPD camera policy gets even worse, and even further away from the public's preferences. Here are the responses given to the question of when officers should be given access to body camera footage. Note that the largest split involves the viewing of camera footage before writing reports.

The NYPD policy sides with the 91% of officers who stated they should be given access before writing reports or issuing statements. The explanation of its decision to run contrary to public opinion cites two things:

1. Plenty of other law enforcement agencies have similarly bad camera policies.

The NYPD body-worn-camera working group has reviewed the body-worn camera policies of nearly 30 police departments. All of them allow officers, without restriction, to review body-worn camera video prior to filling reports when there has not been a significant use of force.

2. NYPD internal investigations are probably the most thorough, serious investigations in the history of internal investigations.

The propriety of this approach requires some understanding of how serious use-of-force investigations proceed in New York City… [two pages of Complicated Hypothetical Situation…]

So, the NYPD will join the 21st century, already in progress, with 1,000 cameras and policies that benefit no one but the officers wearing them. The presumption for footage will be nondisclosure and the only people guaranteed to see the footage will be those who can tailor their narratives to recordings after the fact. The NYPD believes it's the best police force in the nation, if not the world. But it's still far behind several smaller agencies, both in terms of tech adoption, as well as transparency and accountability.


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  • icon
    dave blevins (profile), 19 Apr 2017 @ 5:43pm

    Might as well save the $$$ to pay the court awards

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

    • icon
      discordian_eris (profile), 19 Apr 2017 @ 5:52pm

      Re:

      Someday cities will do the math and realize that it is far cheaper to run a clean police force then to keep paying millions for their dirty cops. Not going to hold my breath though.

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

  • icon
    JMT (profile), 19 Apr 2017 @ 5:50pm

    Don't they keep telling us...

    If you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to hide right?

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

  • identicon
    ThatOneOtherGuy, 19 Apr 2017 @ 5:51pm

    Time for the first CopCam Virus??

    Reprogram the firmware so the switch only controls the "green" indicator light for recording.
    It will always be recording, but only showing the light when the cop presses the "on" switch.

    That way, we get what we want while they think they're getting what they want.
    All "footage" captured with the light "off" will be routed to civilian controlled storage where it can be analyzed for "the proof" that we all know exists, of these "bad apples" that toxify the environment that the good cops have to operate in.

    I know, I know, that assumes there are good cops, and I stand by it, as I know there are good cops. I have several friends that are good cops, sheriffs, deputies.

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

    • identicon
      Chuck, 19 Apr 2017 @ 8:35pm

      Re: Time for the first CopCam Virus??

      Are there really good cops?

      Or rather, if 91% of cops are of opinions that are clearly designed not to hold fellow cops accountable, does that not indicate that 91% of them are, if not bad cops, at the very least enablers of bad cops?

      I mean, if you're a bartender and you refuse to check ID, regardless of your reasons, you're enabling underage drinking. Doesn't that make you a bad bartender?

      How is this any different? Body cams create accountability. Anything that hampers their immediate and universal deployment is, by definition, anti-accountability. Even a cop with a flawless record is, at minimum, a "bad cop by association" if they're against body cams.

      So...really, only 9% or so are truly good cops, based on this data.

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

    • identicon
      kog999, 21 Apr 2017 @ 1:35pm

      Re: Time for the first CopCam Virus??

      that's fine once, as soon as the footage is used in courts and cops become aware if it they use circumvent it.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Apr 2017 @ 8:32pm

    80%-plus hypocrisy

    So NYPD cops should have access to camera footage whenever they want, yet if someone who's been filmed wants or needs the footage, say as evidence in a trial, they have to jump through hoops controlled by an agency that has been described as worse than the gorram NSA, CIA, and FBI when it comes to releasing information.

    Oh yeah, that's not hypocritical and likely to result in massive conflict of interest in the slightest.

    I'd say 'Stay classy NYPD', but I'm pretty sure a septic tank has more class than they do at this point.

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

  • identicon
    My_Name_Here, 19 Apr 2017 @ 9:14pm

    Finally, some good news for a change by a police department that actually knows what it's doing.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2017 @ 5:42am

      Re:

      Finally, some good news for a change by a police department that actually knows what it's doing.

      Poe's law at it's finest. I'm tempted to tag this as funny, but I can't entirely be sure if it's intended as a joke or if it's actually serious as scary as that sounds.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2017 @ 6:07am

        Re: Re:

        Since its a staff trolling a dead story rather than the real poster,just don't bother.

        It's sort of self trolling for a site that is rapidly losing steam.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2017 @ 4:05am

    'The NYPD believes it's the best police force in the nation, if not the world'

    from this piece of news it seems the only thing that the NYPD is best at is hiding everything it does so that it cant be held accountable. to me that shows just how bad a police force it is, not how good it is, and that it has far too much to hide, meaning it does far to many things it shouldn't! the NY public should be appalled by this and demand that their approach be adopted, not what the police force wants!!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2017 @ 8:43am

      Re:

      Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Anonymous Coward? Cops have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Eric Garner, and you curse the Cops. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Garners death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And Cops existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want cops on that wall, you need cops on that wall. Cops use words like honor, code, loyalty. They use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. Cops have neither the time nor the inclination to explain themselves to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that they provide, and then questions the manner in which they provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2017 @ 9:33am

        Re: Re:

        Cops have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom.

        And last time I checked there's no conscription of cops so clearly they're getting something beyond just responsibility or nobody would sign up for it

        You weep for Eric Garner, and you curse the Cops. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Garners death, while tragic, probably saved lives.

        Citation needed. The public record shows that Eric Garner's most frequent offense was selling loose cigarettes. This is a non-violent crime with no victim other than the state who doesn't get their cut of the revenue. However, one would assume they already got their cut from the pack of cigarettes or bag of tobacco when Garner purchased it, so the regulations he violated were unreasonable prohibitions on free enterprise and criminalization of poverty as it is behavior most likely to be engaged in by the poor. Furthermore, on the day in question Garner had broken up a fight before the arrival of the "peace" officers so the actions of Garner himself would have appeared likelier to have saved lives that day than the actions of the police. So if you have credible information to defend your assertions please share them. Otherwise your argumentum ad verecundiam isn't fooling anyone.

        And Cops existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.

        I have no problem with the existence of police officers. However, I do take issue with the extraordinary powers and privileges granted to them via police unions. The cultural climate of policing has been polarized into an us vs. them mentality where no officer will publicly admit that behavior that they or a fellow officer engaged in is wrong even when it is objectively unreasonable. How can officers expect citizens to hold each other accountable and cooperate with the police while never cooperating with an investigation into the wrongdoing of a peer? Criminal behavior should be treated as such no matter who engages in it.

        you want cops on that wall, you need cops on that wall.

        I don't recall asking for this straw man you're lobbing on me. I assume you're metaphorically referring to protection from criminals, but in a climate in which violent crime has been on a steady downward trajectory for the past three years the last thing I want is strict enforcement of minor, non-violent infractions. I'm more of a libertarian philosophically and in my view victimless crimes aren't crimes and the real crime is the violence exercised by the state in prosecuting behavior that hurts nobody but the perpetrator.

        Cops have neither the time nor the inclination to explain themselves to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that they provide, and then questions the manner in which they provide it.

        Yay! More argumentum ad verecundiam! I love this game of spot the fallacy.

        I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

        I'll say thank you and walk away if the behavior is worthy of thanks. And thanks for finally coming straight out and admitting that you have no interest in public accountability. It makes it much easier to ignore your subsequent posts.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2017 @ 6:16am

    And yet NYC voted heavily dem, the mayor is a dem and the city council is made up of some truly batshit crazy liberal politicians.

    If you think the NYPD is out of control, how can this happen in a city that is so progressive?

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 20 Apr 2017 @ 7:03am

    "The NYPD believes it's the best police force in the nation,..."

    As long as the cameras are off.

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

  • icon
    Geno0wl (profile), 20 Apr 2017 @ 1:01pm

    ratings site

    https://www.bwcscorecard.org/

    interesting website that rates various departments policies. The NYPD is not alone in having bad practices.

    It is nice to see my PD rated well. Stellar records release policy. Though there is one minor issue. For some issue OVI(or DUI as some know it) have to have special proprietorial review before they can be released. I couldn't figure out why ONLY those types of charges were treated special.
    That is when my co-worker pointed out to me that legislators don't caught on BWC in assaults, thefts, or shootings. They get caught in OVIs. Ahhhh there it is. Good old self protectionism built right in there.
    Of course it will only take another state legislature to get caught up in a prostitution sting or some other crime before it is amended a again to have even more caveats on that exception list...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2017 @ 6:40am

    Sure, sit in your ivory towers, but the NYPD has to deal with situations that you want no part of. You want to deal with MS 13 gangs that are in the middle of a street war? You want to deal with people that execute 4 young men? You want to deal with people that hack 4 people to death with machetes in a New York park?

    Of course, MS 13 was founded by immigrants seeking safe haven from the civil war in El Salvador, and NYC is a sanctuary city, but whatever.

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


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