Acting under an order from a federal judge, the NYPD finally unveiled its body camera pilot program yesterday. A handful of officers in all five boroughs will wear cameras mounted to their heads or bodies to record everything from routine traffic stops to potentially deadly confrontations. The announcement by the NYPD comes almost two months after the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died during an arrest that was videotaped by a bystander, leading to widespread outrage about the NYPD's use of force.

"In February, we began exploring the idea of cameras, and members of the NYPD visited Los Angeles to study their pilot program with body cameras," NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton (who was the LAPD chief from 2002-2009) said at a press conference at police headquarters yesterday afternoon. The NYPD was ordered by Judge Shira Scheindlin in Floyd V. City of New York (better known as the "Stop and Frisk" case) to explore the possibility of officer-mounted cameras, in a program to be overseen by a federal monitor. Because of ongoing litigation by police unions, the federal monitor has yet to be appointed, but the NYPD has decided to go ahead with the camera pilot project anyway.

"This is just too important to wait," Bratton said, referring to the ongoing litigation. Bratton cited evidence from police departments using body cameras which suggests that confrontations with suspects deescalate when both parties know the officer is wearing a camera.

“This pilot program will provide transparency, accountability, and protection for both the police officers and those they serve, while reducing financial losses for the city," Mayor de Blasio said in a joint statement with Public Advocate Tish James, who has been calling for the swift implementation of body cameras. "New York City will do everything it takes to stay the safest big city in the nation. This means testing new methods and staying ahead of the curve on emerging technologies like body cameras."

Bratton stressed that many of the specifics in the program, which will begin this fall, were still being worked out, and that policies dictating when filming should happen have yet to be determined.

Bill Bratton at yesterday's presser (Gothamist)

At the press conference, two police officers modeled two separate devices the NYPD is considering for the program. One, the Axon Flex (made by TASER), is worn on the officer's lapel or glasses. It constantly records video, deleting everything that happens more than thirty seconds in the past. However, once an officer activates its record function, the previous thirty seconds before he or she pressed record will remain on record. This would enable the NYPD to document what precipitated an incident. The downside to the apparatus is that it doesn't capture audio and is worn in two pieces, with the battery pack having to be placed elsewhere on the officer's body.

The other model that's being tested is the LE3 (manufactured by Vievu), which is a single-piece camera that can be worn by officers on their chests. While it has no 30 second pre-record feature, it is far less obtrusive than the other model and can be easily activated by the officer lowering the shutter on their chest.

The entire pilot program will cost $60,000 and is being funded by the Police Foundation and not the NYPD or city itself. This is in keeping with Bratton's strategy of putting the NYPD out in front of the project instead of letting either a federal monitor or civil liberties groups dictate what the cameras should look like and when they should be used.

"Honestly, the civil rights community is all over the map with this. There's just no common ground," Bratton said, claiming that his way of reaching out to them was by holding this press conference. Earlier in the year, Bratton had met with police union leadership to go over the program and inform them of what steps were to be taken. Some in the civil rights community, as Bratton put it, were offended by the NYPD's process.

"This kind of unilateral decision on the part of the NYPD follows the nontransparent, go-it-alone approach to police reform we saw with the prior NYPD and mayoral administration," Darius Charney, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement. "The pilot project ordered by the court envisioned a collaborative process in which the City, plaintiffs and court monitor work together to develop the guidelines and procedures for how the cameras and the footage recorded on them would be used and stored. But it now appears that the City has made all of these important decisions implicating police officer and civilian safety and privacy entirely on its own, which is troubling for those of us who care about building trust and respect between the NYPD and the communities they police.”

At the press conference, Bratton showed a clip of what a traffic stop would look like with body cameras being worn by the NYPD:

NYPD Body Camera Demonstration from Gothamist on Vimeo.

While brief, the re-enactment footage shows both clear audio and video taken from an officer's chest. This would be the advantage of the LE3 model, which would capture the important audio of interactions that could help further illuminate what actually occurred.

The cameras will be tested in one precinct per borough, in accordance with a ruling by Judge Scheindlin, who ordered that cameras be worn in precincts with the highest number of stop and frisks. Six body cameras will be distributed to the 23rd Precinct (East Harlem), the 40th Precinct (the South Bronx), the 75th Precinct (East New York, Brooklyn), the 103rd Precinct (Jamaica, Queens), the 120th Precinct (Staten Island), and Police Service Area 2, which patrols public housing projects in Brooklyn. Officer participation in the pilot will be voluntary.

Bratton explained that while cameras are certainly the future of the police force, the cost of implementing them will be extremely high. Calling the storage needs of each single camera "phenomenal,” Bratton said the city is looking into how to store the footage, how much should be stored, and when footage could legally be deleted. Storage also presents a huge financial burden to the department, with Bratton predicting that the program, if fully implemented, could cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

This all represents a huge turnaround from the position of the Bloomberg administration, which adamantly opposed the use of cameras. Speaking last summer, Bloomberg, flanked by former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, said that "We can't have your cameraman follow you around and film things without people questioning whether they deliberately chose an angle…It would be a nightmare. Cameras don't exactly work that way—a camera on the lapel or the hat of the police officer, they'll say 'He's turning the right way, or he didn't turn the right way, my God he deliberately did it.' It's a solution that's not a solution to the problem."

Apparently, Commissioner Bratton believes cameras are a very large part of the solution. The pilot program is expected to begin this fall.