NYPD Institutes Body Camera Pilot Program After Civilian Deaths

nypd-body-camera-pilot-programThe shooting of Michael Brown sparked debate over police practices and oversight around the country; but a local incident, the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island,

NY, has brought about not only a commitment to police retraining, but a new pilot program bringing body-worn cameras to 15% of police precincts in the city.

The program, initially proposed by Public Advocate Letitia James as a way to cut down on civilian complaints, has been championed by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.

“It’s a technology that I support strongly,” Bratton said at a news conference Thursday. “It’s a technology that is needed in America to help deal with so many of the events that we’re seeing.”

Body cameras have proven successful in parts of the country. In Rialto, Calif., complaints against officers decreased by 88% once the cameras were instituted nationwide.

Others have seen flaws with department-wide camera usage, however. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch opposed the idea of making body cameras mandatory due to additional weight they could place on an officer.

“Our members are already weighed down with equipment like escape hoods, mace, flashlights, memo books, asps, radio, handcuffs and the like,” Lynch said in a press release last year. “Additional equipment becomes an encumbrance and a safety issue for those carrying it.”

A typical police-grade body camera weighs approximately .25 pounds or .1 kilogram.

While the opinion of the PBA may seem representative of law enforcement around the country, BrickHouse Security CEO Todd Morris argues that individual officers are generally in favor of the devices.

“There’s a perception in the media that police don’t want to wear cameras, when in reality we have sold tens of thousands of body-worn cameras to police officers personally who are paying for these out of their own pocket so that they can avoid getting in the situation where someone makes a complaint against them and they can’t prove that it’s an invalid complaint,” Morris said in an interview with MarketWatch.

Another potential problem with body-worn cameras is their activation mechanisms. Many police cameras need to be pressed to begin recording which, again according to Morris, could be an afterthought in an emergency.

“What happens if, you’re in a stressful situation, and you need to reach for your gun, run, jump in front of someone to protect them and don’t get a chance to push that button before you do it?” Morris asked in a segment from NBC New York (watch the video below).

With the pilot program set to begin in New York City, some have questioned the cost-benefit of such a program. The initial integration of body cameras to 15% of the precincts will run the department $5 million, with complete adoption bringing the total to $32 million.

“When you compare $152 million in judgments that we paid out last year compared to $32 million if we were to do this citywide, there would be some savings and obviously it would improve police-community relations,” Public Advocate James said, referring to the amount paid out to NYPD-related lawsuits in 2013.

In a state and country where surveillance is already a hot-button issue, body cameras could be an unwelcome addition to the landscape. But, if precinct success stories from around the country are any indication, camera adoption could lower the number of complaints against officers, and build much-needed relations between them and the communities they serve.

(Image by David Shankbone, licensed under Creative Commons)

About the author  ⁄ Erik Helin

Erik is BrickHouse Security's copy chief. Hailing from the Midwest (Wisconsin), Erik moved to NYC in 2010, securing a job at BrickHouse shortly thereafter. Outside of work he writes about music, does freelance advertising work, and wastes his life on the internet. Aside from no-brainers like cheese and beer, Erik enjoys music, travel, TV, his cat, and Brooklyn.