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NYPD body cam plan flawed, police reform advocates say

NYPD Sgt. Andrea Cruz wears the Vievu LE3

NYPD Sgt. Andrea Cruz wears the Vievu LE3 camera during a news conference at One Police Plaza on Sept. 4, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

A coalition of police-reform groups stepped forward Thursday to ask a federal judge to stop the NYPD’s body camera pilot project — set to begin next week — claiming the plan has numerous problems that need to be fixed.

In a news conference Thursday outside the gates of City Hall, advocates said the NYPD’s plan to outfit about 1,200 cops with cameras is flawed because it doesn’t require cops to record enough encounters with the public. The advocates also objected, among other things, to officers having the right to view their recordings before making statements or writing reports.

“The idea that you have police officers able to view what is on their body cameras before they start writing paperwork is exactly the wrong way to have body cameras implemented in our city,” said David Rankin, an attorney for the umbrella group Communities United for Police Reform. “It is supposed to be a check on police officers’ conduct, on police officers’ reports. But if they know what that check is, it completely defeats the purpose.”

A 2013 federal court decision in a class action suit brought against the city over stop-and-frisk, which found that the police unconstitutionally targeted minorities, required the NYPD to create a camera plan.

That plan was approved last week by special monitor Peter Zimroth, who said in court filings that no further court proceedings were necessary to start the program.

But attorneys for plaintiffs in the stop-and-frisk lawsuit filed legal papers late Wednesday asking Manhattan federal judge Analisa Torres to overrule Zimroth’s approval of the camera program and delay the NYPD’s implementation of it. Police-reform advocates with Communities United For Police Reform said they were also filing briefs.

The advocates maintain that, despite the approval of the special monitor, the proposal still needs court approval. Zimroth couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

“This court clearly should have and does have the power to step in and review the policy and make sure any problems with the policy are changed,” said Darius Charney, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the groups that brought the 2008 stop-and-frisk lawsuit.

Charney also said that the current policy doesn’t require cops to record all investigative encounters, something he said needs to be changed. A large group of police encounters with civilians wouldn’t be recorded under the plan, something which would defeat the purpose of the body camera program, Charney said.

A spokesman for the NYPD said the department would review the legal filings but that barring an injunction, the pilot program would be implemented next week.


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