The NYPD released a policy for body camera usage on Friday, outlining the types of civilian encounters that officers will be required to record, and when and how cops and civilians can review footage. The policy will dictate a months-delayed pilot program, which the NYPD says will ultimately outfit 1,000 beat officers. About 50 beat cops in Manhattan's 34th Precinct, covering Washington Heights and Inwood, will be outfitted before the end of the month, according to an NYPD spokesperson.
While the report includes input from community and police surveys conducted last summer, police reform advocates say the NYPD didn't incorporate some key suggestions. In particular, the policy doesn't require police to record every investigative encounter with the public, even though more than 80 percent of civilians surveyed said they were in favor of this. As written, police will be required to record "arrests; searches in the home; searches in the street; vertical patrols; uses of force; stops and frisks; and traffic stops."
The New York Civil Liberties Union argues that this breakdown isn't comprehensive enough, as other types of encounters could escalate quickly without documentation.
"Officers are given far too much discretion and loopholes to not record, making it likely that most instances of police brutality that escalate quickly will not be recorded," agreed Communities United for Police Reform spokesperson Mandela Jones in a statement.
Advocates are also concerned that police will be able to review body camera footage before writing incident reports or making official statements about an incident (cops who fire their guns are excluded, according to the Daily News). In its 2016 suggestions on body camera policy, the NYCLU quoted the NYPD Inspector General's warning that "honest recollections of an incident may be altered inadvertently by viewing video footage, leading them to omit events they recall but which were not captured on camera."
Today's report describes video evidence as "simply another form of documentation" that could prove helpful to officers filing reports. More than 80 percent of surveyed cops said they were in favor of free access to footage, compared to about 25 percent of civilians.
Civilians, meanwhile, will not be able to access footage without filing formal requests. Those with pending criminal cases will rely on their attorneys to acquire footage through the discovery process, while the rest of the public will have to file FOIL requests to access footage—a process the NYPD describes as "far superior" to online streaming.
"There is no clear and simple way for people outside the NYPD to review footage," the NYCLU wrote in a press release Friday. "Since the NYPD insists that its officers will be able to review footage, it's only fair that the public, including people who have been arrested or who file complaints against officers, be given access, too."
The new policy will also require police to tell members of the public that they are being recorded—an NYCLU suggestion.
NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis told the Daily News that today's proposal is subject to change.
"It may change down the road," he said. "We review patrol guide procedures on a regular basis. Something may occur, either in the pilot, or upon getting a question or upon getting a comment from someone else. And you know what? We may say, 'Good point—we are now tweaking it.'"
"We think the policy does not fully strike the right balance between privacy, transparency and oversight," said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Molly Kovel in a statement.
You can read the full proposal here.