The Civilian Complaint Review Board, one of the key city agencies responsible for investigating complaints of misconduct by NYPD officers, has had trouble doing a timely job on some complaints because its access to police body-worn camera videos has faced bureaucratic obstacles, according to a Department of Investigation report released Friday.
The DOI inquiry, which compared CCRB experiences with those of other city agencies that have some police oversight, found that a key cause of the delay in gaining access to videos was that the recordings are commingled with sealed records involving closed criminal cases and information about juvenile offenders. Such material is generally withheld from disclosure by law, the DOI noted.
In its report, the DOI, through Philip Eure, the agency’s inspector general for the NYPD, recommended that police streamline and improve the process of responding to CCRB requests for body camera footage and recommended that the CCRB get direct access to police videos, as is done in other jurisdictions around the country.
Police officials have countered that after a pandemic-fueled backlog last year, the videos are being processed on time.
The DOI acknowledged that state laws could prove to be an obstacle to access but added that the NYPD should review procedures to assure that sealed body camera footage is not commingled with unsealed images.
"Effective and independent police review requires direct access to body-worn camera footage," Eure said in a statement. "Oversight agencies cannot hold officers accountable for misconduct and foster greater trust between communities and law enforcement if the police withhold, redact or delay the production of critical evidence."
According to the DOI, the current process for the screening of police body camera videos "can be time consuming and prone to administrative delays."
Under a memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and the CCRB, once police legal personnel review the videos, CCRB investigators should be able to have access to the recordings in 10 business days, or if redacted footage was found, within 25 business days. CCRB personnel also are supposed to have access to secure screening rooms to view videos. But such procedures, in part for budgetary reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic, have not been implemented, the DOI noted.
CCRB chair Fred Davie applauded the DOI report and agreed with its findings.
"Shortening investigations has been a priority of the CCRB for a long time, and direct access to [body-worn camera] footage will allow the CCRB to complete more thorough and efficient investigations," Davie said in a statement. "We reiterate the need for a legislative change to allow the CCRB and oversight agencies to have access to sealed records and make sure we are able to investigate all allegations of police misconduct."
But in a five-page letter addressed to Eure, Mayor Bill DeBlasio and other city officials, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs Ernest F. Hart said that while the release of body-worn camera footage was impacted by the pandemic, the backlog from the summer of 2020 has essentially evaporated and that a current inventory of over 2,500 CCRB video requests were being timely processed.
Hart also noted that the CCRB has the ability to access videos by a special email link, and that with some exceptions, the NYPD responds to CCRB video requests within five days.