NY Official Proposes NYPD Body Cameras to Prevent Police Brutality After Eric Garner Chokehold Death
It has been just over three weeks since Staten Island resident Eric Garner was killed after New York Police Department officers used a chokehold when arresting him. The incident was captured on camera by a bystander.
A senior elected New York official, Public Advocate Trish James, advocated on Monday for a pilot program of police using body worn cameras because of the increased scrutiny and concern about police misconduct and released a policy study about the pilot.
"I'm here today to call on Mayor de Blasio and the Police Commissioner to immediately begin a pilot program to equip police officers with body worn cameras at police precincts with the highest rates of police misconduct and crime, and to ultimately implement use of body cameras for all patrol officers in all precincts in the city," said James.
James added, "We've seen several significant incidents related to police misconduct in New York City. We must turn this low point in our city's history of police community relations to a turning point. In the wake of recent events, training and changes to protocol are, of course, necessary and I applaud the Mayor and Police Commissioner for proposing these steps but more must be done. We know more must be done because that NYPD protocol has prohibited chokeholds since 1993, and yet in the last five years, there were over 1,000 complaints of illegal chokeholds to the Civilian Complaint Review Board."
James said the pilot program would cost $5 million, based on estimates of similar programs in other U.S. cities and, if implemented widely, would save the city money. Last year alone, the city paid out $152 million in judgments due to police misconduct. In a report issued by former Comptroller John Liu in 2012, there were 9,750 tort claims against NYPD, and payments have increased by 52 percent in the past five years. The money, James said, could be better spent on many other social programs.
Other cities using body worn cameras are Chesapeake, Oakland, New Orleans, Rialto, San Diego, and Spokane. According to James' policy report, a study conducted with the Rialto Police Department found complaints dropped by 88 percent and use of force dropped by 59 percent when cameras were instituted. Piloting programs are underway in Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco and Washington.
Police wearing body cameras was first recommended in the federal court case Floyd v. New York City over the NYPD's use of Stop, Question and Frisk, with Judge Shira Scheindlin making it one of her recommendations. The case found that NYPD did unfairly target blacks and Latinos. Those recommendations are on hold as a final ruling in the case is still pending because several parties are seeking to intervene, and an appeal case is in place.
James' proposal would recommend body worn cameras for 15 percent of precincts with the highest rates of crime and complaints of police misconduct, and for officers to use the cameras to record every stop in they're involved. Precincts identified in that category are 75th, 77th, 79th, and 73rd in Brooklyn, 40th, 44th, 47th, 52nd in the Bronx, 120th in Staten Island, and 103rd in Queens. The 75th Precinct for instance received 226 complaints, almost four times the city average.
Latin Post called the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the police union for comment about the proposed police body cam pilot. In a statement from 2013 when the idea was first floated, Pat Lynch said, "It is common knowledge that New York City is already saturated with video cameras. Manhattan has its ring of steel. The outer boroughs have traffic cameras and countless private and public security cameras located everywhere so there is simply no need to equip patrol officers with body cams. Our members are already weighed down with equipment like escape hoods, mace, flashlights, memo books, asps, radio, handcuffs and the like. Additional equipment becomes an encumbrance and a safety issue for those carrying it. Given that the root cause of this stop and frisk problem is a significant shortage of police officers in local precincts, it seems to us that the monies spent on a bodycam pilot program would be better spent on hiring more police officers and providing them with extensive field training with an experienced officer."
Latin Post called Mayor de Blasio's office for comment about the pilot program. In a press briefing on July 28, the Mayor was asked about use of body cameras and said, "The body cameras are part of the agreement we reached with the federal judge, but they are complicated. ...I think the basic reality is that it is a technology that we agreed to as part of that settlement, but it's not something that has been perfected yet, and it's something that has to be worked on quite a bit to be used on the kind of scale we're talking about here. But I certainly think it's a productive idea, and it will, I think, ultimately improve the relationship between police and community."
James' report, however, says NYPD's use of cameras could lead to an increase in transparency and to make correct procedures are followed, and protect officers from bogus claims.
"Long-term, the initiative would expand to include all of the City's police precincts. Ultimately, this initiative aims to balance justice and civil rights with the need to maintain law and order," said Trish James.
James said the pilot program could be enacted by the de Blasio Administration and NYPD without requiring legislation and could be in place by the start of 2015. There is no protocol yet for how the footage will be available but it will be made available to the civilian involved in an incident in a timely fashion, and preserved for a reasonable period of time. A complaint filed for instance with CCRB would trigger a person's right to the footage.