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NYPD starts body camera tests

A New York City Police Department police officer

A New York City Police Department police officer activates a body camera during a demonstration at the new police academy building in Queens on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The NYPD launched a pilot program Wednesday to test body cameras on police officers, hours before a grand jury's decision not to bring charges in the alleged Staten Island chokehold case showed that video evidence may not always be viewed as conclusive.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, at a morning announcement on the program, said the new tool will instill more confidence in the police and create a video record from their perspective.

The city's $50,000 pilot program is funded by the nonprofit New York City Police Foundation. Its testing was ordered in a 2013 ruling by a U.S. district judge who found the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices at that time to have unconstitutionally targeted minorities.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama proposed more federal funding to help police departments obtain body cameras in the wake of a grand jury's decision not to charge a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in the killing of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown. That shooting was not captured on video, and witness accounts differed in critical ways.

The use of an apparent chokehold by Officer Daniel Panteleo in the arrest of Eric Garner in July was caught on a bystander's amateur video, which advocates of an indictment argued should have made the case stronger.

"Of course cops should all wear cameras, but #EricGarner's case shows that even w/ video evidence we are not holding the bad guys accountable," tweeted Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) after the Garner decision.

NYPD officer training began Wednesday on use of the cameras. Three precincts, including the one covering the Staten Island neighborhood where Garner died, will begin using them on patrol Friday. Three more precincts will join the test next week.

The six precincts have the highest rates of police stop-and-frisks of civilians. Fifty-four officers volunteered to test the devices.

"Our goal is, of course, to use these cameras on a broader basis, but first we have to find out how they'll work in real conditions in New York City," de Blasio said, standing alongside NYPD Commissioner William Bratton at the department's academy in College Point, Queens.

"This pilot program, I think, is a sign of great hope and possibility of something that will not only give us that additional information, but really give people greater confidence," de Blasio said.

Two camera models are being tested -- one that can clip onto an officer's jacket and another worn over the ear. They must be used in seven scenarios, including attempts to take individuals into custody.

They record video and audio, and the NYPD will keep the data in cloud storage.

Bratton said the pilot program will allow the NYPD to learn the pluses and minuses of camera use. New York City will work with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Metropolitan Police in London, both of which use body cameras, in an exchange of resources and ideas.

"We are dealing with a lot of unexplored territory on this issue. . . . We're going to all learn together," Bratton said of police and public.

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