The New York Civil Liberties Union submitted public comment this week urging the NYPD to strengthen and improve several aspects of its draft policy on body cameras. The department worked with New York University’s Policing Project to collect comments on the policy before it is finalized. The NYPD will be rolling out body cameras as part of a court-ordered pilot program as a result of stop-and-frisk litigation.

“The purpose of the city’s substantial investment in body cameras is to give New Yorkers the means to hold police officers accountable for misconduct,” said NYCLU Policy Counsel Michael Sisitzky. “Body cameras are not a silver bullet, but with the right policies that maximize police accountability, they can help restore trust between communities and police. And with the nation’s eyes on how the NYPD implements body cameras, we have to get the policies right.”

In its comments, the NYCLU strongly urges the NYPD to change its draft policy to ensure that body cameras fulfill their intended purpose of increasing trust between police and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect.

  • The NYPD's policy must require that cameras be on and recording during all law enforcement encounters—including stops, arrests and uses of force. Officers who fail to turn on cameras when required should be disciplined and those who repeatedly do so should be aware they could be terminated.
  • Officers should not be allowed to view recordings of incidents before they write their initial reports or provide official statements, which would undermine their effectiveness as an accountability tool.
  • The NYPD must have a clear and simple way for people to review the footage, without imposing excessive fees or other unreasonable barriers. The footage should be subject to release under New York’s Freedom of Information Law. Both criminal defendants and people who file complaints against the NYPD should be entitled to a copy of the relevant footage.
  • To reduce the potential for privacy intrusions, the NYPD must provide notice to people when they are being recorded and give them the option to refuse unless there is a safety emergency. People’s faces and other identifying characteristics, like tattoos, should be blurred when footage is released. And body cameras should only be used to record interactions that have an investigative or law enforcement purpose.
  • All footage should be maintained for at least six months (or longer if necessary for cases or complaints against officers). And recordings that capture a use of force, an incident leading to someone’s arrest or detention, or an encounter related to a complaint should be held for three years.

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