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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Filed Under: accountability, body cameras, new york, nypd, transparency


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  1. 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.


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