New York City

Body cam backlog: NYPD lags on making footage public, report finds

July 12, 2019 Jeffery Harrell
A body camera. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File
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The NYPD is failing to provide body cam footage in instances of police misconduct, according to a new report from a city watchdog agency.

The report, released by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, found that around 40 percent of its requests for the release of body camera footage were not fulfilled in 2019.

It also found that in several cases, the NYPD provided “false negatives” on several occasions, telling the CCRB that no footage existed when it was later discovered to have existed all along.

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The CCRB is tasked with oversight of the NYPD and has the authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of police misconduct in certain scenarios.

According to its report, of the roughly 2,100 requests for body camera footage this year, the NYPD has left 788 unfulfilled. Many of these requests were made months ago.

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The CCRB also found that since the start of the year, the rate of unfulfilled requests for footage have dramatically increased. Before March, the number of unfulfilled requests was only at 23.

This figure has dramatically increased. Between the first and second quarters of 2019 the rate of unfulfilled requests has gone from 14 percent to 95 percent.

In the month of May, the NYPD did not turn over any of the footage requested by the CCRB in relation to instances of police misconduct.

In at least 18 instances this year, the NYPD provided a “false negative,” in which they claimed footage did not exist only for it to be discovered later.

In one instance, the CCRB requested footage the NYPD claimed did not exist. It was later leaked to the Daily News.

The report comes after a February ruling in the appellate court, that struck down the police union’s opposition to releasing footage from body cameras.

“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,” the panel of judges wrote in their decision at the time.

The NYPD has blamed the growing backlog of footage requests on “influx of Freedom of Information Law requests for BWC [Body Worn Camera] recordings that must now be fulfilled pursuant to the ruling,” according to the report.

An NYPD spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle the backlog has increased since all officers were issued body cameras in March. Previously only certain members of the force had body cameras.

Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell also stressed that camera footage can only be released after rigorous legal scrutiny that involves blurring out faces and removing any footage depicting sex-crimes.

“The NYPD has assigned additional personnel to the legal unit to address the backlog of requests and that process is actively underway,” O’Donnell told the Eagle. “Since June 11, 2019, we have completed more than 500 CCRB cases.”

The CCRB only has an 18-month statute of limitations to investigate issues of police misconduct, and worries that the massive backlog of complaints will inhibit their oversight of the NYPD.

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