NYPD Launches 1st Phase of Bodycam Program

NYPD, Bodycam
Josh Isner, Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Representatives of Axon (formerly known Taser International Inc.) holds one of his company’s body cameras. (Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

The New York Police Department on Thursday launched the first phase of a plan to equip 22,000 officers with body cameras.

The initiative began with police brass attending a roll call for camera-wearing officers at a Manhattan precinct. The department expects to deploy 1,200 cameras around the city in the next few weeks.

The NYPD recently finalized guidelines on using the devices. Rules require officers to turn on their cameras when making arrests, pursuing criminal suspects or dealing with crime scenes.

The city agreed to start using the cameras following a 2013 federal court decision finding that the NYPD had wrongly targeted black and Hispanic men with its stop-and-frisk tactics. At the time, few police departments used body cameras. Their use has since exploded around the country following a string of deaths by police and the ambush killings of officers.

Some have said cameras could help de-escalate situations that lead to violence. But most officers remain opposed to it, saying it indicates a lack of trust.

The department sought public comment through a questionnaire and worked with New York University’s Policing Project to analyze the results. Some 25,000 people, plus 5,000 police officers, responded anonymously, and NYPD officials made changes based on the outcome.

Public response was disproportionately white relative to the city’s population, though the report found that on many key questions there was little difference in response by race.

“I think this shows that the public can have a voice in policing,” said Barry Friedman of NYU’s Policing Project.

One change based on the results was to alert civilians they are being recorded.

“New Yorkers … really want to be told they’re being recorded,” assistant deputy commissioner Nancy Hoppock said. “And officers really don’t want to tell them.”

Police won’t record every interaction because there’s not enough storage capability and it would bump up against privacy laws and could stop witnesses from coming forward.

Officers will turn on their cameras for arrests, summonses, vehicle stops, interactions with crime suspects, interactions with a mentally unstable person who is violent, or when using force. They record property searches. They won’t record demonstrations unless there is a crime or other enforcement. The tapes will be kept for a year and the footage released publicly only in certain cases.