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Public Advocate calls on NYPD to wear body cameras

Police Chief: “When you know you’re being watched you behave a little better. That’s just human nature.”
By JC Sevcik   |   Aug. 12, 2014 at 6:43 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Citing the role of video recording in documenting and exposing the misconduct of law enforcement officers in three recent incidents—the chokehold death of Eric Garner, the NYPD dragging a Brooklyn grandmother out of her apartment in her underwear, and a California Highway Patrolman repeatedly punching a woman in the face as she shields herself—Letitia James, the Public Advocate of New York, called on the NYPD to implement a body camera pilot program which would equip officers with wearable video recording devices to capture interactions with the public in a press conference Monday.

"It would be a nightmare," former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said in response to a ruling in which judge Shira Scheindlin ordered the NYPD conduct a one-year pilot using cameras in five precincts.

"We need action today, and that is why I am proposing this initiative," James said. "Our recommendation goes further than the program proposed . . . we are calling for a pilot to be followed by city-wide implementation."

"The NYPD is exploring the feasibility of camera technology that will outfit officers and/or equip department vehicles. In the process of doing so, there are various technological, legal and logistical concerns that must be addressed before making a final decision," Deputy Chief Kim Royster, a spokesperson for the department, told the New York Daily News.

"We're at the very beginning of something that could be very, very big," said Sydney Siegmeth, spokesperson for Taser International, which company produces a body camera it hopes all law enforcement departments will outfit their officers with.

Opponents of police being equipped with wearable cameras cite concerns of both violation of privacy and the cost and logistics of processing and storing the huge amounts of data collected, though proponents argue that any expense would be offset by a reduction in court costs associated with lawsuits filed against departments and even a reduction in the amount of paperwork involved in law enforcement.

"Why would we have officers sit down and waste time writing [a report]? Ten years from now every cop will wear a camera, which will mean a much more smooth and transparent relationship with the community, and every officer will be out doing police work instead of doing administrative work," Rick Smith, CEO of Taser told the Guardian.

James believes the potential reduction in police brutality lawsuits could save the NYPD and the city of New York millions, though Patrick Lynch, president of the Policeman's Benevolent Association disagrees, claiming the best way to save on lawsuits is to stop settling out of court.

"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," Lynch told the New York Daily News.  "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."

Advocates of LEO being equipped with wearable cameras also tout the increase in accountability the devices encourage in officers.

Cambridge University's 2012 study of Rialto Police Department's use of body-worn cameras found a 59 percent reduction in use of force and an 88 percent reduction in complaints against officers.

"When you know you're being watched you behave a little better. That's just human nature," Rialto police chief Tony Farrar told the Guardian.

After video of Eric Garner's death while being choked by the NYPD went viral, the department released a memo reminding officers of the public's right to record.

"Members of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions," the memo states. "Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or ordering the person to cease constitutes censorship and also violates the First Amendment."

"It's hard for me to understand why, if officers are acting appropriately, they wouldn't want a tape, an audio-visual recording of what they're doing," Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA, said.

"The challenge of on-officer cameras is the tension between their potential to invade privacy and their strong benefit in promoting police accountability," Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a 2013 ACLU white paper.

"Overall, we think they can be a win-win – but only if they are deployed within a framework of strong policies to ensure they protect the public without becoming yet another system for routine surveillance of the public".

Follow @JCSevcik and @UPI on Twitter.
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