Do police body cams work? NYPD issues report.

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Experts: NYPD body camera program needs tweaks, community input.

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) — Police in New Castle County have started to wear body cameras as part of a pilot program expected to expand throughout the department. The NYPD has a very long way to go in organizing a body camera program for its patrol officers, much further than anyone, including Commissioner Bill Bratton, appears to have expected.They began as workaday interactions between the police and the public, often involving minor traffic stops in places like Cincinnati; North Charleston, S.C.; and Waller County, Tex.The New York Police Department should broaden the guidelines mandating when officers activate their body-worn cameras to include all street encounters or investigative contacts, the agency’s inspector general urged Thursday.

Bratton’s seven-month old pilot effort, relying on 54 volunteer officers in a handful of precincts, suffers from too narrowly limiting when cops are required to record interactions with the public, as well as from training that was too limited to produce standardized results from cop to cop and precinct to precinct, according to a report issued by the department’s inspector general. More than any other technology, body-worn cameras have the dual role of helping fight crime while promoting greater transparency and public trust in law enforcement. The recommendation was one of 23 made in the 71-page report by Eure and city Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters — the agency under which the Inspector General’s office operates.

Elmer Setting says his goal is to have his entire force of officers equipped with body cameras in the near future, noting that the cost of data storage is an expensive undertaking. In the commissioner’s defense, Bratton drove the NYPD onto the frontier of a law enforcement technology that departments nationwide are finding is far more complex to execute than anticipated. The report, issued Thursday, also suggests police have a lot of work to do before the pilot program, which began in December, is properly focused and ready to grow beyond its current six commands. “We think it’s important the NYPD gets the policy right,” said Eure. “It needs to nail down the policy before you talk about a wider expansion of the program.” Currently, cops are instructed to use the body cams when there’s a reasonable suspicion that a crime is happening, during traffic stops and during incidents where force is used. “The reasonable suspicion standard is limiting opportunities where the camera should be on,” he said. “I think (the videos) will benefit us far more than they do the public.” The IG’s recommendations followed those made earlier this month by a federal monitor installed after a judge’s 2013 ruling that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices were unconstitutional. The report was published the day after University of Cincinnati police Officer Ray Tensing was indicted in the shooting death of motorist Samuel DuBose after a traffic stop, an encounter that was captured on Tensing’s body camera. Those videos, all involving white officers and black civilians, have become ingrained in the nation’s consciousness — to many people, as evidence of bad police conduct.

Officers should be directed to turn on the devices more frequently when engaging with suspects, and less often with victims and informers, the report said. On Thursday, the Department of Investigation’s Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD released the first comprehensive review of the NYPD’s program. Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association head Patrick Lynch sounded a cautionary tone: “Before any decision is made about their implementation in this city, the issue needs to be extensively studied. And while they represent just a tiny fraction of police behavior — those that show respectful, peaceful interactions do not make the 24-hour cable news — they have begun to alter public views of police use of force and race relations, experts and police officials say. The video they generate on patrol should be kept longer — at least 18 months, rather than a year under the current policy — and the consequences of failing to record when required to do so should be made clear.

Having them record at all times, as happens in Albuquerque, N.M., is accepted even by civil libertarians as excessively expensive, overwhelmingly unnecessary and prone to invasions of privacy. Use of the cameras is seen by policing leaders and by President Obama as one step that departments can take to improve relations between officers and the communities they police, by deterring police misconduct or documenting it. While the NYPD’s current body-worn camera policy reflects a strong start, we identified several issues that need to be remedied before the NYPD expands its program. To the police, that poses a new challenge in trying to regain public confidence. “Every time I think maybe we’re past this and we can start rebuilding, it seems another incident occurs that inflames public outrage,” said James Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Police officers literally have millions of contacts with citizens every day, and in the vast majority of those interactions, there is no claim of wrongdoing, but that’s not news.” Some polling bolsters such concerns.

Basic questions about their use remain, including how much discretion officers should have in deciding what to record and when, and who should have access to view the footage once it is stored. IG Philip Eure’s central recommendation is that cops should turn on recorders any time they engage in investigative activities, short of having enough suspicion to stop someone for questioning. Eure suggests that officers and citizens alike involved in complaints shouldn’t be able to review the footage until after giving formal statements to investigators. In a Gallup national survey conducted in June, 52 percent of people said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police, down from 57 percent two years earlier, and 64 percent in 2004. The report also recommended limiting the recording of vulnerable individuals, such as witnesses to a crime, and extending the minimum retention period for recordings.

Similarly, police supervisors should randomly review footage to make sure it’s being logged and recorded properly — but shouldn’t do so in order to discipline officers for minor violations, such as being out of dress code, he said. In 2007, 37 percent of Americans had high confidence that their local police would treat blacks and whites equally, the Pew Research Center found, but last year that was down to 30 percent.

The report is based on interviews with officers who wear the cameras, prosecutors, police supervisors and a review of policies in 20 other city police departments, including Phoenix, Los Angeles and Seattle. Such was the case with fatal police shootings in North Charleston and Cincinnati, and with the arrest in Baltimore of Freddie Gray, who died of injuries he sustained while in police custody. Tensing is also charged with voluntary manslaughter in the July 19 shooting of DuBose, of Cincinnati, who was stopped for not having a front license plate. In all three cases, prosecutors brought rare murder charges against officers within days — remarkable speed for a process that in the past could take weeks or months. Defense attorney Stewart Mathews said there are two sides to the case and that the body camera video of the traffic stop can be interpreted differently from the prosecutor’s version.

And the number is rising quickly as the federal government provides grants for cameras, said Lindsay Miller, a senior research associate at the group. Dashboard cameras are far more prevalent — more so among state police and highway patrol forces than among local police forces — but experts say they know of no national tally of those, either. But body camera advocates and skeptics alike say they do not know how much that reflects a real decline in police misconduct, and how much was a drop in spurious civilian complaints; it may be that both groups behave better when they are on camera. “Over all, body cameras and dashboard cams deter police misconduct, but at this point, it’s hard to know how much, and there are officers whose behavior is not going to be changed,” Professor Butler said. But law enforcement officials warn against unrealistic expectations of a simple transition that will provide a kind of impartial witness to every interaction.

It can give an incomplete, even misleading, picture, they say, and it cannot really put the viewer in the shoes of an officer having to make split-second decisions under pressure. “Body cameras are helpful, but they are not the magic elixir,” said Sim Gill, the district attorney of Salt Lake County, Utah. “What a camera sees is not necessarily what the officer sees.

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