New York City

Release of body-cam footage doesn’t violate NYPD records law, court rules

February 20, 2019 Jonathan Sperling Brooklyn Daily Eagle
AN NYPD OFFICER WEARS A BODY CAMERA. AP PHOTO/MARY ALTAFFER.

The release of NYPD body-camera recordings does not violate a New York state law that protects police officers’ personnel records, a state appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

Following a lawsuit filed against New York City in January 2018 by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a panel of judges from the Appellate Division’s First Judicial Department agreed that releasing police body-camera footage does not violate a piece of state law known as 50-a, which shields the records used to evaluate NYPD officers’ performance from public review without written consent or court order.

A lower court had ruled in favor of the city in May 2018.

“We find that given its nature and use, the body-worn-camera footage at issue is not a personnel record covered by the confidentiality and disclosure requirements of [the state law known as 50-A],” the Appellate Division judges wrote in their decision. “The purpose of body-worn-camera footage is for use in the service of other key objectives of the program, such as transparency, accountability, and public trust-building.”

Earlier this month, the Eagle reported that a panel hired by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill had found “almost a complete lack of transparency and public accountability,” in the NYPD’s disciplinary system.

In a statement, O’Neill said the department would accept the findings of the panel, improve its public reporting and get up to speed with other agencies.

The NYPD also stated that it will appoint a citizen liaison, take measures to expedite disciplinary adjudications, upgrade its case management system and adopt presumptive penalties in domestic violence cases.

“I offer my deep and sincere thanks to members of the panel, and their staffs, who have donated their valuable time, skills and efforts to perform a vital public service to New York City,” said O’Neill. “A fair, clear and consistent discipline system is essential to the police and public alike, and the twin virtues of transparency and accountability are essential to building mutual trust and respect between cops and the communities they serve.”

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union disagreed with the Appellate Court’s findings.

“We believe that the court’s decision is wrong, that it will have a negative impact on public safety and on the safety of our members,” PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement.

Lynch also said that the PBA will review the decision and consider another appeal.

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