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NYPD to test use of body cameras on officers, Commissioner Bratton says

New York City Police Department Sergeant Andrea Cruz

New York City Police Department Sergeant Andrea Cruz wears the Vievu LE3 camera during a news conference at One Police Plaza on Sept. 4, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

The NYPD will equip 60 officers with miniaturized body cameras in an experimental program that Commissioner William Bratton predicted would be the forerunner of the department's more widespread use of the technology.

During a news conference Thursday at police headquarters, Bratton, a big fan of the cameras, rolled out two types of devices being used experimentally by the Los Angeles Police Department to record video and audio.

Bratton was chief of police in that city from 2002 to 2009 before he returned to New York to take over the NYPD in January.

The camera program, to roll out in the next few months, is part of an order signed by Manhattan federal Judge Schira Scheindlin last August to settle a major stop-and-frisk lawsuit.

Scheindlin directed the NYPD to experiment with the devices in precincts with the highest number of stop and frisks, activities she said disproportionately targeted minorities.

Volunteers will be selected in five precincts, one in each borough: 23rd Precinct (Manhattan); 40th Precinct (Bronx); 75th Precinct (Brooklyn); 103rd Precinct (Queens); 120th Precinct (Staten Island). Also included will be housing police in Public Service Area 2 in Brooklyn. Nassau County had earlier announced a similar camera experiment.

"The overall sense about this issue is that these camera devices do tend to de-escalate [situations]," Bratton said. "The idea is that the persons do understand they are being recorded and that there is an ability to test their veracity."

Bratton acknowledged that the cameras bring with them a host of issues, including privacy, security and the recordings' use in court proceedings. There's also the question of what should be recorded, he said.

Bratton appears to be facing some pushback on the experiment from police unions. Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the use of cameras has "many unanswered questions."

Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said he had some concerns about officer safety in tense situations.

"Do I go for my gun, my [night] stick, or do I go for the camera?" Mullins asked rhetorically, adding that the devices could be a collective bargaining issue.

Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that other cities now using cameras are much smaller than New York, and that data storage and confidentiality were problems that need to be addressed.

Darius Charney, the attorney for some of the plaintiffs in the stop-and-frisk case, criticized Bratton's decision to experiment with cameras as "unilateral" and "nontransparent."

Bratton said civil liberties groups "appear to be all over the map" on the issue of cameras.

With Emily Ngo and John Riley

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