Nearly 50 NYPD officers in a Washington Heights precinct are scheduled to hit the streets Thursday wearing body cameras — part of a long-awaited program that will provide all patrol cops with the devices in the next few years.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Mayor Bill de Blasio are expected to address the 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift at the 34th Precinct, located at Broadway and W. 183rd Street, before cops go on patrol with the VieVu cameras, which are smaller than a pack of cigarettes.
A total of 60 cameras have been provided to the precinct, although only 58 officers will actually wear them, said an NYPD spokesman. Officials have had training sessions with the officers, who were preselected to wear the devices.
The camera rollout represents the first wave in this year’s pilot program involving the deployment of 1,200 devices in 20 commands. The next precinct scheduled to get the body cameras is the 60th Precinct in South Brooklyn near Sheepshead Bay. By 2020, the city plans for all 22,000 patrol cops to wear cameras.
The city initiated the camera program as a result of a 2013 federal court decision in litigation over the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk procedures.
In finding that police employed the tactic unconstitutionally against minorities, Judge Shira Scheindlin came up with various remedies. Among them was having police officers experiment with body cameras as a way of defusing tensions and providing a method of accountability.
As a result, the city came up with the current camera pilot program which was preceded in 2014 by a smaller experiment involving 54 officers wearing the devices. Peter Zimroth, the special court-appointed NYPD monitor who is reviewing city compliance with remedies in the stop-and-frisk litigation, will be assessing the pilot program.
Last year, the city conducted opinion surveys of 5,000 officers and more than 25,000 members of the public about cops and cameras. Some 92 percent of the public responders said NYPD officers should use body-worn cameras and 73 percent believe cameras will improve police and community relations and help keep officers safe.
About 90 percent of officers believed cameras would either have no impact or would improve relations between cops and the communities, according to the survey. The remaining officers responded that they thought cameras would worsen relations or impair officer safety.
Last week, an umbrella group of civil rights advocates filed papers with Manhattan federal judge Analisa Torres to have her stop the rollout of the cameras as approved by Zimroth.
The advocates said NYPD rules governing cameras don’t require officers to record enough encounters with the public. The advocates also had issues with officers having the right to view their recordings before making statements.
Torres rejected the request, saying the recommendations by Zimroth, which cleared the pilot program to begin, were not a final recommendation subject to court approval or review.