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.