NYPD officers who wear body cameras have a higher rate of illegal police stops than those who do not.
These findings come from a year-long pilot project ordered by a federal court judge and implemented by the court-appointed monitor overseeing the NYPD’s stop and frisk reforms.
While officers who wore body cameras engaged in more unlawful stops, frisks, and searches, they also tended to submit the proper documentation for their stops more than their counterparts. The results were perhaps a reflection of the increased reporting, according to the monitor.
“The use of [body-worn cameras] is not a panacea, as the results of the study show,” wrote the monitor, Peter Zimroth, in his preface to the study report released Monday. “But it is a powerful tool for increasing transparency and accountability for police officers, the public and for police officials.”
The study showed a 38.8% increase in stops reported by officers with the cameras than by those without. The presence of body cameras did not appear to have any effect on the number of arrests officers made or on the amount of times they used force.
The monitor’s findings come more than two years after the pilot was conducted from April 2017 to April 2018. Since that time, the NYPD has voluntarily rolled out body-cameras to officers in all precincts.
The pilot project was ordered by Judge Shira Scheindlin who presided over the lawsuit Floyd v. The City of New York. Schiendlin ruled that the way the NYPD was using stop-and-frisk tactics during the Bloomberg administration was racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. She appointed a monitor to oversee numerous reforms.
Darius Charney, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the Floyd case, said the pilot project showed that body-worn cameras can be a useful tool in ensuring that the police department is collecting accurate data on stops, which is important. (The monitor has consistently noted over the years, and the NYPD has acknowledged, persistent underreporting of police stops.)
But, Charney said, the study does not provide any evidence that wearing the cameras actually changes police behavior and helps to make the practice of stop and frisk more lawful.
“What we can say based on this study is that if used correctly -- meaning not just that the officers record things, but that supervisors review the footage -- the cameras might be an effective way to uncover unconstitutional stop and frisk behavior,” Charney said.
But, Charney added, the report’s findings did not offer any recommendations or analysis on how the police department could use body cameras more effectively as an accountability tool or to change police behavior.
Police officials said the department welcomed the latest report from the monitor, but said it reflected outdated practices.
“The NYPD has long since deployed body-worn-cameras for its entire patrol force to realize the benefits of increased transparency and better compliance by officers with the NYPD’s policies and procedures, including those relating to street stops,” a department spokesman said.
Sergeants are required to review stop reports and they must review five body camera videos of their officers each month, according to another report from the monitor released in late October. The monitor noted that although the NYPD tracks whether supervisors review the video footage, the department does not track what the supervisors find in the footage, whether it is an unlawful or undocumented stop. The monitor recommended that the NYPD track undocumented stops going forward.
If a supervisor determines that an officer failed to report a stop, or made an unconstitutional stop, officers may receive either instructions to correct their actions, additional training, or discipline.
According to the monitor’s report released in October, from 2017 through 2019, 56 officers received some form of command discipline for failing to document a stop, while 204 received “instructions” or training.
The body camera study also aimed to determine whether the introduction of body cameras had any effect on police-community relations and people’s attitudes toward police. Based on the year-long snapshot under review, the answer was no.
“Concerning community perceptions, in the short term, the adoption of body cameras did not change community perceptions of the NYPD in precincts that received the technology relative to precincts that did not receive the technology,” according to the report.
Judge Scheindlin ordered the body camera pilot even though it was not a reform requested by the plaintiffs in the Floyd case. Nor were the use of body cameras sought by long-time police reform advocates.
Rather, in an extensive community-engagement process also ordered by the court, community members most affected by stop and frisk asked for a change they felt was more relevant to understanding how police encounters played out on the street: requiring officers to document all investigative interactions with the public. Currently, officers are only required to report stops where the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that someone has committed or is about to commit a crime.
In 2018 the court ordered a pilot project to document all types of police stops. That pilot is being developed and has not yet been implemented.