With the rollout of body cameras to police officers citywide, video evidence is increasingly providing the Civilian Complaint Review Board an important tool in substantiating allegations of police misconduct.
But obtaining these videos of police encounters is slowing down the CCRB’s already lengthy investigation process because it must wait for the NYPD to turn over the evidence.
According to the CCRB’s latest numbers for the month of May, more than a third of its investigations, 36 percent, have pending body camera footage requests. That’s a dramatic spike from the year before, when the police watchdog agency had pending requests for 2 percent of cases, as the body camera program was just rolling out.
As of last month, the CCRB has substantiated allegations of police misconduct in 42 percent of cases where there was video evidence, compared to 7 percent where no video was available.
“Body-worn camera footage greatly increases the board's ability to issue a definitive account of what happened during a police-civilian interaction,” said Jonathan Darche, executive director of the CCRB. “Officers who engage in misconduct are more likely to be held accountable for their actions. And video also affirms if an officer is behaving professionally and treating people with respect.”
The average length of a CCRB investigation in 2018 was 211 business days, up from 163 in 2017. The CCRB receives just over half of the videos within 30 days, the agency reported, with the vast majority—95 percent—coming within 90 days.
The NYPD began issuing body cameras in 2017, and this past February, all uniformed officers received them. The department is still in the process of issuing 4,000 more cameras to members of its specialized units, including the Emergency Services Unit, Strategic Response Group and Critical Response Command, and that is expected to be finished in August.
A judge recently ruled that members of the public can request the videos under the Freedom of Information Law. Previously, a lawsuit halted releasing the videos for nine months.
The CCRB has asked for direct access to the footage, but that’s not something the NYPD would consider, according to police officials.
Devora Kaye, an NYPD spokesperson, said getting the video ready for release to the public can be time-consuming and may involve pixelating faces in some instances to protect the privacy of sex crime victims or others, as required by law. Kaye added that the department has assigned additional personnel to address the backlog of requests.