NYPD Orders Investigation After Body Camera Explosion

The department has halted the use of the Vievu LE-5 cameras, but will continue to use an earlier model already in circulation.

by Anthony M. Destefano, Newsday / October 23, 2018
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(TNS) — The NYPD has ordered a forensic investigation into its newer-model police body cameras after one of the devices exploded and caught fire on Staten Island over the weekend, an official said Monday.

The department was hiring an independent firm to do a full-scale probe into why the Vievu LE-5 model device ignited, said Jessica Tisch, deputy commissioner for technology for the NYPD. The camera exploded after an officer took it out from its port and saw it was smoking. No one was injured.

Speaking at a news conference to announce the final rollout of precincts involved in the highly vaunted Neighborhood Policing program, Tisch said that while some 2,900 of the newer-model devices had been pulled from use, NYPD officers were still wearing about 15,000 of the earlier model, LE-4.

“Officer safety is our primary concern, so we are not going to roll out the LE-5 cameras at this time,” said Tisch.

NYPD officials seemed surprised by the technical problem that has gummed up the pace of the department's plan to have body cameras for all of the approximately 22,000 officers in the patrol force by the end of 2019.

But Tisch acknowledged that in June, before the rollout of the newer-model camera, another police jurisdiction had a similar problem with a camera fire. As a result, the NYPD asked the manufacturer, Vievu, to conduct an independent forensic inquiry, which found that tampering with the camera had punctured the battery, noted Tisch.

A company spokesman could not be immediately reached.

“At that time, they believed there were no safety issues,” said Tisch.

Body cameras have been a major component of the NYPD plans to make policing more transparent and open to scrutiny following a settlement of litigation over the controversial stop-and-frisk tactics from earlier in the decade.

In another effort to increase and improve police communication and collaboration with the public, the department in mid-2015 began introducing the Neighborhood Policing program. The program calls for the use of special coordination officers and sector cops in each precinct whose job is not to chase 911 calls, but to build relations with the public in an effort to help fight crime, said Chief of Department Terence Monahan.

By Tuesday, with the inclusion of the 104th Precinct and Midtown North, the department will have 76 precincts using that program, along with nine public housing areas and several transit commands, said Commissioner James O’Neill.

At the news conference, O’Neill also announced that the NYPD was seeking bids for a study to be done about the effectiveness of the Neighborhood Policing program. He said the bid deadline for the study was the middle of the week.

O’Neill said the department was trying to figure out the workings of a so-called “Sentiment Meter,” a smartphone polling operation that attempts to get feedback from the public about how they feel about police and the job they are doing. The polling is done by an outside firm, and O’Neill said the NYPD is trying to figure out why the polling numbers fluctuate before the results are used in the Compstat program to help local precinct commanders.

“I am a believer in it,” O’Neill said of the polling. ”But before we go full speed ahead, we have to know what makes those numbers go up.”

©2018 Newsday. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.