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NYPD Body Camera Policy Ignores Community Demands for Police Accountability

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The NYPD today released its newly finalized body camera policy. The New York Civil Liberties Union remains concerned that the policy is not sufficiently targeted at ensuring police accountability because it gives police too much control over the footage that’s collected. The patrol guide policy released today will govern the NYPD’s pilot program of 1,000 body cameras which is set to launch within a matter of weeks. 

The NYPD released its policy several months after giving the public the opportunity to weigh in on draft guidelines governing the use of cameras. Though some of the issues raised by the NYCLU when the draft policy was released have been addressed, serious problems remain.

“In 2013, a federal court ordered the NYPD to use body cameras as a tool to stop unconstitutional, biased policing. We are concerned that today’s policy does not do enough to ensure that the cameras will be effective in this way,” said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Molly Kovel. “We think the policy does not fully strike the right balance between privacy, transparency and oversight.”

The NYPD’s new policy includes important improvements over earlier draft guidelines, such as the requirement that officers provide notice to people when they are being recorded and that they take into account people’s requests for privacy when considering whether to record interactions. However, the NYCLU warns that the final version fails to ensure accountability in several regards:

  • The NYPD’s policy does not require that cameras record all police investigative encounters, despite the potential for low-level encounters to quickly escalate. We are also skeptical of the department’s commitment to disciplining officers who disregard the policy, even if they willfully do not turn on cameras when required.
  • Officers will be allowed to view recordings of incidents before they write their initial reports or provide official statements, which allows offers to tailor their version of events to what was recorded and undermines the cameras’ effectiveness as an accountability tool.
  • There is no clear and simple way for people outside the NYPD to review footage. Since the NYPD insists that its officers will be able to review footage, it’s only fair that the public, including people who have been arrested or who file complaints against officers, be given access, too.

In August, the NYCLU submitted public comments urging the NYPD to change several aspects of its draft body camera policy. Members of the public were also invited by the department to take a survey and tell the NYPD what they would like to see in a body camera policy. Broad majorities of survey participants voiced support for addressing the weaknesses in the policy.

“New Yorkers were clear that they wanted a body camera policy that focuses on accountability and transparency, and it’s disappointing that the NYPD largely ignored their advice,” said Michael Sisitzky, NYCLU Lead Policy Counsel. “Public support for body cameras will not last if the technology becomes just another gadget to help police and prosecutors, instead of a tool for meaningful reform of police practices.”

The NYPD pilot program launching later this month will not include facial recognition technologies. The NYCLU strongly cautions that the use of any such technologies in a future body camera program would represent an unparalleled degree of intrusion into New Yorkers’ privacy without justification.

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