Body Cams Now Worn by All 20K New York City Police Officers

The NYPD’s latest rollout of body-worn cameras means all police officers at all precincts are equipped with the recording technology. The department will deploy 4,000 more cameras to special units in the coming months.

by Anthony M. Destefano, Newsday / March 7, 2019
(TNS) — The NYPD reached a benchmark Wednesday with the announcement that about 20,000 officers now wear body cameras, which have recorded more than 3.5 million videos in the past two years.

The completion of the latest rollout means cameras are now worn by all officers, including sergeants and lieutenants, in every precinct, transit district and public housing police area, said First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker at a briefing with reporters.

“The sense is, this is working well," Tucker said, "We are evaluating always, certainly with respect to stop and frisk in particular." 

A recent appeals court ruling struck down an injunction that prevented the NYPD from releasing videos recorded by body cameras. Tucker said videos of police involved shootings are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis for possible release, including the friendly-fire death last month of Det. Brian Simonsen in Queens.

Earlier this week, Police Commissioner James O’Neill indicated a release of the Simonsen videos could happen soon after consultation with the Queens district attorney's office.

During the coming months, the NYPD will provide cameras to some 4,000 officers in specialized units, such as the Critical Response Command, Highway Patrol, Emergency Services units and Strategic Response Command, said Jessica Tisch, deputy commissioner for information technology.

The camera program continued despite a glitch last October when one used by an officer on Staten Island caught fire. The officer was not injured. In response, the department pulled all Vievu LE-5 model cameras from use, replacing them with an earlier version and a newer model, the Axon-Body 2. The Axon camera will become the standard-bearer as the older Vievu LE-4’s are replaced this year, officials said.

The cameras have helped the department to get to the bottom of police misconduct allegations, with videos able to show whether they were substantiated, Tucker said. Cameras are also proving useful in training and assessing police actions after an incident, he added.

“We try to review as many as we can … lots of people are looking at videos,” Tucker said.

After an initial experiment during former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's tenure, efforts to provide body-worn cameras to cops got a big boost when the settlement of a federal lawsuit over police stop-and-frisk tactics allowed for their use in a pilot program to assess their effectiveness.

By April 2017, the first phase of the camera program outfitted 1,300 cops in 20 precincts with the devices. The remainder of the police precincts got cameras in December 2017.

Tucker said the recent court ruling on cameras has prompted the department to start reviewing its backlog of Freedom of Information Law requests for access to recordings. There are about 1,127 such requests and the department is going through them in order to see what materials can be released, officials said.

While officers have a series of instructions as to when to start and stop their cameras, the devices have a default buffer designed to record 30-second soundless segments that are continuously erased. The process is repeated until a cop presses the button that activates the camera's full sound and video recording capability.

The default function provides context to evaluate the moments before an officer decides to formally activate a body camera, said NYPD Chief Matthew Pontillo, who is supervising the camera project.

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