NEW YORK – In 2013, a federal judge ruled the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department (NYPD) violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city, and she ordered a number of solutions including a pilot program in which officers will wear body cameras to record street encounters in at least five precincts across the city.
Body cameras can be useful in providing records of what occurred during the arrests and violent confrontations. Along with dashboard camera videos and cell phone videos, they can provide essential evidence that can lead to the resolution of a case. The device was also envisioned to increase police and public accountability.
However, until now, NYPD doesn’t have a single body camera for its approximately 35,800 officers, despite the order given three years ago. Even dashboard cameras are not used in the vast majority of the New York Police Department’s patrol vehicles, which has become standard in many patrol vehicles where resources are available.
The NYPD was ordered to pilot a body camera program 3 years ago. Today, not one officer has one. https://t.co/x1pII9P7fy
— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 4, 2016
Police officials indicated the delays were attributed to the city’s procurement process and to the department’s need to carefully select the right equipment before proceeding on a larger scale.
NYPD said they already chose a supplier of up to 5,000 units within the next five years, but this will apparently take time as a contract has yet to be signed and the items will not be available for months.
At a news conference Monday, city officials announced the company chosen to supply the cameras is Vievu L.L.C. of Seattle. “There are still things that have to be worked through,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said; “But I want to be very clear that they are coming.”
The New York Police Department involved 54 officers in a pilot program that ended in March. But J. Peter Donald, a spokesman for the agency said, “We needed better policy guidance and training for officers on body cameras.” The project did not satisfy the federal court order calling for a robust pilot program.
The rules regarding the practical aspects and policy are yet to be made final. A member of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, said he believed the “glacial pace” reflected a lack of enthusiasm. “What do you expect to happen when the N.Y.P.D. sets the terms and the pace of police reform?” Councilman Torres said in an interview. “I have trouble imagining it’s for lack of capacity,” he said of the delays. “I suspect it’s for lack of will.”
Democratic Mayor de Blasio pointed out at the news conference, “We’ve been very, very clear about the complication and the challenges of doing this in the biggest city in the country with the biggest police force, by far, in the country. So we’re going be purposeful about getting it right. Once we start down the road, we have to make sure that we are getting it right.”
The New York Times reported how many cameras are in use in other departments. By comparison, the Chicago Police Department has 2,000 body cameras in use. The Los Angeles Police Department has so far deployed 1,160. In Charlotte, most of the police force is outfitted with body cameras. In New Jersey, the State Police have a pilot program involving more than a 100 cameras, though many troopers also have a dashboard camera in their cars.
The Newark Police Department, which was placed under federal supervision earlier this year after a Justice Department investigation, is not using body-worn cameras.
As many departments have seen the benefit of using a body-worn camera, it has quickly grown in acceptance. Although there’s a new law in several states that took effect this month restricting public access to the video footage captured by police, it can still serve the purpose of providing information regarding any incident that was captured by the camera, which can be reviewed by authorities.
However, there have been some reports from the users about the problems they encountered with the device. Many are questioning the effectiveness and accuracy of the equipment. A field test in one agency revealed the software crashed repeatedly requiring restarting specifically when reviewing recorded video.
Now, many are questioning why the NYPD accepted its $6.4 million contract with the company without requiring a field test and basing its decision only on a written proposal. The contract though is yet to be finalized. The report says there will be a public hearing regarding this matter Oct. 13.
Several black pastors from the city called on the mayor to dump the company chosen to provide body cams, arguing the camera had issues. “The product has failed in other cities. Let’s not rush it and do our due diligence,” the Reverend Keith Roberson, pastor of Southern Baptist Church said Tuesday.
He cited an example from California, where 25 percent of body camera video footage was erased by the Oakland Police Department during a routine software upgrade, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I’m concerned with what faulty body cams would mean for people of my community,” Roberson said. “Footage from body cameras can prove vital in any case. We just can’t afford footage loss or any room for human error, especially in communities of color where relationships with police are already tense.”
As bystanders or other witnesses can capture videos of police encounters through their cell phones, police departments are convinced they should be recording as well.
Harlan Yu, who works for Upturn, a technology consultant involved in the compilation of a comprehensive review of police departments’ policies said, “Many of the groups I work with don’t see body cameras as a silver bullet for the problems we’re seeing in our communities when it comes to policing.”
Limitations on the use of the equipment when privacy is concerned are also being questioned, especially inside homes where privacy is most expected.
Yu noted that very few departments had policies clearly providing a right to view camera footage following a complaint of misconduct. The departments in Las Vegas and Washington were exceptions; both had clear procedures in place for individuals to review footage pertaining to the police, he said.