Police speeding up plan to equip officers with body cameras

AP News
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Posted: Jan 30, 2018 7:08 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — In what the mayor called "a new day in policing," the city announced on Tuesday that it was speeding up a plan to equip all its officers and detectives on patrol with body cameras.

City officials decided that more than 20,000 cameras will be in use in the 34,000-member New York Police Department by year's end, a year earlier than anticipated.

Police Commissioner James O'Neill said the department is able to step up the pace after getting "valuable feedback" from commands already using about 2,500 body cameras. Officials said another 18,000 cameras will gradually be added to the nation's largest police department.

"By ensuring all patrol officers are outfitted with these essential, modern policing tools a year faster than originally planned, we're helping to make New York City fairer, faster, and growing trust between police and communities," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat. "Body cameras have helped guide a new day in policing, bolstering transparency and increasing accountability."

Opponents of the new timetable were quick to criticize it.

"The NYPD decision today seems extremely premature," said Darius Charney, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights and an attorney in a landmark court case in which a federal judge ruled in 2013 that the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program was unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

In a statement Tuesday, Charney questioned why the city was "rushing" to provide the cameras while a court-ordered evaluation of police practices is pending.

"There is no data or analysis yet on whether the cameras are improving officer behavior or the quality of police-civilian interactions," Charney said.

Some of the police body camera footage has been made public.

A union representing 24,000 uniformed officers, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, sued the department this month, saying the release of that footage without a court order violates a state law that makes officer disciplinary records confidential. The union said making the images public also violates the privacy of everyday citizens caught on camera.

The de Blasio administration's preliminary budget includes funding for the NYPD camera rollout and information technology upgrades: $5.9 million in fiscal year 2018, $12 million in 2019 and $9.5 million in 2020.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said she supports making footage public.

"Police practices, especially shootings and racial profiling, deserve serious public scrutiny, and body cameras promise to provide a measure of transparency," she said. "The rollout of cameras to the entire NYPD patrol force has the potential to enhance accountability, but only if the footage is made public, with faces of civilians blurred to protect privacy."