To Record or Not to Record:

That is the Question.

NYPD Releases New Body Camera Procedures

by Lori R. Keeton

In 2013, a federal court ruled that the stop and frisk tactics of the New York Police Department (“NYPD”) violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city.  In the nearly 200-page opinion, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin found that the Police Department resorted to a “policy of indirect racial profiling” by increasing the number of stops in minority communities. The judge called for a federal monitor to oversee numerous remedial measures,including the use of body-worn cameras for some patrol officers.

Barry Friedman, a law professor who heads the New York University Policing Project, put together a questionnaire seeking input for the guidelines.  More than 5,000 officers and 25,000 citizens responded.

On April 7, a draft of the guidelines was released.

The  proposed guidelines mandate that police officers announce to anyone they question or confront that they are being recorded — unless the disclosure might put an investigation or individual at risk.

According to the proposal, officers will turn on their cameras when using force, for arrests, most summonses, vehicle stops, interactions with criminal suspects and with mentally unstable people who are violent. They are to record property searches. The cameras must be turned off during internal meetings and trainings and if officers are speaking with sex crime victims or confidential informants.  The guidelines also give officers the discretion to use their cameras “when in the uniformed members’ judgment, it would be beneficial to record.” The tapes will be kept for a year and the footage released publicly only in certain cases.

One of the most controversial elements of the guidelines is that it allows officers to review body camera footage (their own as well as that of other officers) prior to making any kind of statement or report after an incident.

The program is slated to start this month in the 34th Precinct in Washington Heights. By this fall, about 1,200 officers in 20 precincts will have them. In the second phase of the program, the NYPD intends to outfit 5,000 cops with cameras by the end of next year with the goal being for the entire patrol force of 23,000 to be equipped with the cameras by the end of 2019.

There are at least two more hurdles to the guidelines’ implementation:  they still need approval from the federal monitor and the detectives’, lieutenants’ and captains’ unions have indicated they will be filing suit challenging the procedures on the grounds that they should be the subject of collective bargaining since their members will be responsible for the implementation of the program.

To view the questionnaire results and the proposed guidelines, click here: Questionnaire and Proposed Guidelines.

To view the 2013 stop and frisk opinion that ordered the use of body cameras, click here: Stop and Frisk Opinion.   

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