New York City

Brooklyn police precinct to begin body camera pilot program

December 3, 2014 By Charisma L. Troiano, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Public Advocate Letitia James shows off one of the potential body cameras for NYPD officers. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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Training for NYPD’s body camera pilot program is set to begin this week for select police precincts, one of them in Brooklyn, officials stated Wednesday. The sped-up timetable comes days after President Barack Obama announced that he would seek federal funding for similar programs and on the day a Staten Island grand jury ruled not to indict a police officer for the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

Body cameras will “fundamentally change” policing, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Public Advocate Letitia James called for a pilot program in July in the immediate aftermath of Garner’s death. “We are living in an increasingly technological world, and we should take measures to incorporate video cameras into policing to improve public safety,” said James, who attended Wednesday’s news conference. 

The call for body cameras comes in response to the high number of instances and complaints against the NYPD for acts of excessive force and — as in the Garner case and in the fatal shooting of Brooklyn man Akai Gurley by rookie Officer Peter Liang last month — allegations of unjustified killings. 

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“When something happens, to have a video record of it, from the police officers’ perspective, is going to help in many, many ways,” de Blasio said. “And God forbid, when something goes wrong, we are going to have a clearer sense of what happened.”

A cellphone video recording by a bystander captured the police chokehold that led to Garner’s death. Additional video footage has since surfaced, showing separate purported acts of police brutality — the most recent case being surveillance video of a police officer allegedly punching Kahreem Tribble, 16, in the face with the butt of his service weapon.

Use of police-worn body cameras has been touted as a tool with varying benefits, namely providing a fuller context of police encounters.  

“In Staten Island, an unarmed man was killed by policemen arresting him for trafficking in untaxed cigarettes, and in Ferguson, Missouri, an unarmed teenager was shot six times and killed by police officers. If the police in both of those encounters had been wearing body cameras, I expect that neither incident would have ended with a dead body,” New York federal Judge Shira Scheindlin said in a September speech to the Bronx County Bar Association, finding comparison to the case of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot and killed in Ferguson by white officer Darren Wilson.  

A grand jury declined to indict Wilson.

Scheindlin recommended the use of body cameras in her 2013 opinion on the controversial NYPD stop-and-frisk policy. The former administration challenged Scheindlin’s order, but de Blasio ceased all appeals.  A police union is attempting to intervene in the case and continue the appeal. 

“Body cameras are one of the ways to create a real sense of transparency and accountability,” de Blasio said.

The NYPD’s pilot program is a combination of Scheindlin’s recommendation and James’ proposal. Precincts in East New York as well as Harlem, north Staten Island, South Bronx and Jamaica, Queens, will be the first to begin the program. 

The New York Times reports that in addition to the cameras, 35,000 police officers will be issued specially programmed smartphones. Additionally, about 6,000 tablet computers will be distributed to help officers obtain real-time information while on the field.

The use of cameras has also been explained as means to reduce the cost burden of civil payouts by the city on allegations of wrongful actions. As reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, James’ report notes that settlements involving the NYPD cost the city $152 million in 2013 and has been a growing problem with tort claims against the NYPD — increasing 52 percent in the last five years. 

City officials hope that New York’s camera program would have similar results as in Rialto, California, where claims dropped by 88 percent after they started using the body camera technology.


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