New York City Councilmembers grilled police department officials over their controversial new policy regarding the release of body-worn camera footage—which advocates have warned could lead to less transparency, not more—at a public hearing Monday morning.

Councilmembers took issue with several parts of a two-page memo quietly published in mid-October; namely that the NYPD will continue to redact and edit footage as it sees fit, and that next of kin aren't necessarily entitled to see relevant footage of their family members.

Councilman Rory Lancman prodded NYPD’s Oleg Chernyavsky, the Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters, on why there wasn’t a more explicit commitment to release all relevant footage to the public.

“It’s a work in progress. We’re always learning. The idea here is to be transparent and to give the public this vital information with as little delay as possible. If there’s ways to do it better we’re certainly open to them,” said Chernyavsky.

“Here’s a way to do it better, ok?” Lancman fired back. “Whatever footage is available...that footage should be released. It should not be subject to any subjective editing on the part of the Department." The councilmember pointed out that by refusing to release all the footage, the NYPD has "not succeeded in earning the trust of the public."

"People will wonder, ‘Well, what’s missing?’” Lancman said.

The Department’s new policy guidelines say that within 30 days of a “critical incident,” the the NYPD will “release representative samples of the [body-worn camera] video(s)...Extraneous and/or redundant material may be omitted. The footage will be redacted (e.g., faces of involved individuals will be blurred, etc.), as appropriate, prior to being released to the public.” (Critical incidents are defined as any instance where police use of force causes serious injury or death or any other incident deemed important by the police commissioner.)

An unedited version of the footage will be kept by the NYPD, but only released to “an appropriate investigating authority upon request.”

The city’s body camera program began in 2014, after a federal judge ordered it as part of a lawsuit over the NYPD’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policy. Since last March, all 20,000 patrol officers have been equipped with the devices. But since the program’s start, the NYPD has rarely and reluctantly released the footage. The NYPD has repeatedly rejected Gothamist’s Freedom of Information requests for body-worn camera footage. And the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the agency tasked with investigating police misconduct, has also struggled to access the videos for investigations into police misconduct.

According to a monthly statistical report, the Civilian Complaint Review Board lists 574 pending requests to the NYPD for body camera footage. Nearly 60 percent of those requests were more than a month old.

“If we’re serious about achieving the goals of the body camera program, the agency that has direct oversight over the NYPD needs unfettered access,” said Councilman Donovan Richards, the chair of the public safety committee, referring to the CCRB.

NYPD officials at the hearing said they were working with the CCRB to streamline the process of turning over footage, with the goal of getting footage to investigators within 10 days of the request. Chernyavsky said the NYPD had provided videos for 3,700 CCRB requests this year, amounting to 14,500 video clips.

“We expect the process to get significantly better,” he said.

Another point of contention at the hearing arose over whether family members have a right to view unedited footage of those killed by police officers. The policy says next of kin will be notified at least 24 hours before the release of body camera footage, but not that they will be allowed to view it.

“Will you commit to allow families to see the footage...if they want to?” Councilman Brad Lander asked.

“I think that’s what this policy assumes,” Chernyavsky said.

“It says they’ll be made aware, but if it assumes they can view it then shouldn’t it say they can view it?” Councilmember Lander pressed.

“That’s something we can definitely talk about,” Chernyavsky said.

“I mean, we are talking about it. I want a commitment to do it, not to have a conversation about it,” Lander said.

So far this year there were at least 11 deadly police shootings, according to department statistics, five of which occurred in recent weeks. Police haven’t released body camera footage in any of those deaths.

“Can you give us any insight as to why no pieces of the footage on any of these incidents has been released to the public yet?” asked Councilmember Adrienne Adams.

“We are anticipating a release, the initial release imminently,” Chernyavsky said.