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Body Worn Video Steering Group

NYPD body worn camera order stirs unexpected reactions

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The order by a federal judge for NYPD officers to wear body worn video cameras has given unprecedented coverage of the technology in the states.

With the nation’s biggest police department being forced to adopt the technology in a pilot project, the discussion on body worn video in the US has grown larger than ever before.

Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled on Monday that the NYPD were carrying out stop-and-frisk encounters in a racially discriminatory manner, and ruled that the force institute a pilot project in which body worn cameras will be worn for a one-year period by officers on patrol in one precinct per borough — specifically the precinct with the highest number of stop-and-frisk stops during 2012.

NYPD officers

Those precincts are: Mott Haven in the Bronx, East Harlem in Manhattan, Jamaica and Hollis in Queens, East New York in Brooklyn and the North Shore of Staten Island.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, one of the most outspoken critics of the NYPD’s use of of surveillance technology, supported the use of body worn video.

“The pilot project on cameras is a wonderful idea,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the organisation.

“We have always said that cameras are a double-edged sword — they would present a lot of potential for good and a lot of potential for privacy invasions,” Ms. Lieberman said. “But when you’re interacting with the Police Department, there is so much ‘he said, she said.’ The power imbalance is enormous.”

“Everybody wins,” Ms. Lieberman said. “New Yorkers and the police.”

In contrast, the outgoing New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, traditionally a strong supporter of using technology to aid policing – including the increased use of video surveillance – has spoken strongly against the judge’s ruling.

“It would be a nightmare,” he said. “We can’t have your cameraman follow you around and film things without people questioning whether they deliberately chose an angle, whether they got the whole picture in.”

“Cameras don’t exactly work that way. Camera on the lapel or the hat of the police officer — he’s turned the right way, he didn’t turn the right way, ‘my God, he deliberately did it.'”

Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the lawsuit that led to Scheindlin’s ruling, said:

“It needs to be examined further, which is why a test program is the right idea”.

Judge Scheindlin’s ruling has inevitably invoked strong opinions on both sides. The NYPD project, should it get past Mayor Bloomberg’s pledge to appeal the ruling, should prove a unique opportunity to show the American people the benefits that body worn video cameras can provide to both the police and the public, potentially in more situations than just stop-and-frisk encounters.

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