By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Smile, you’re on body camera.
Police officers from four different precincts in Brooklyn could be equipped with body cameras soon if Public Advocate Letitia James gets her way. James is recommending that the NYPD begin a pilot program to equip officers with personal body cameras that she showed off to reporters in her office in Manhattan on Thursday.
“This simple tool will go a long way in improving police-community relations in New York City,” James said.
The public advocate showed off two potential cameras that can be used — both about the size of a playing card — that weigh less than three ounces, can record up to four to eight hours per charge and store more than 50 hours of record time. Videos are produced with a timestamp and a unique identification for each camera and officer.
The cameras cost an estimated $450 to $900 each and the pilot program, which would cover 15 percent of the precincts in New York City, would cost at least $5 million to institute. However, James claims that settlements involving the NYPD cost the city $152 million in 2013. She also notes that there has been a growing problem with tort claims against the NYPD, increasing 52 percent in the last five years.
“In cases where police officers are falsely accused of police misconduct, it will exonerate them because it will provide an objective record of what happened as opposed to hearsay,” she said.
In Rialto, California, claims dropped by 88 percent after the body camera technology was instituted. “Clearly it will save taxpayer dollars, and it’s a win-win for police and community,” James said.
James suggests that if the pilot is successful, it will cost $32 million to outfit the entire city — which is far cheaper than the $152 million the city paid out last year.
The cameras have drawn significant attention recently. Last year, federal Judge Shira Scheindlin declared stop-and-frisk unconstitutional and said the city should be using the cameras. The public advocate then issued her call for body cameras after the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer.
While both James and Scheindlin are pushing for the use of body cameras, the two disagree on how the devices should be used. Scheindlin wants them implemented in precincts with the highest number of stop-and-frisks, while James thinks they would be put to better use in precincts with the highest number of civilian complaints — which in Brooklyn is the 75th Precinct and 73rd Precinct in East New York, the 79th Precinct in Bed-Stuy and the 77th Precinct in Crown Heights.
So far, Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to take a stance on the issue of body cameras. James pointed out that Los Angeles instituted a similar pilot program under Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and she expects Bratton’s support. The Police Benevolent Association has not taking a stance as of yet, but James plans to speak with PBA President Patrick Lynch in two weeks to discuss the matter.
“We are reserving our decision on body cameras until we see some real evidence of their effectiveness and impact on the officers who carry them,” Lynch said in a statement.
“Since announcing the proposal to equip police officers throughout New York City with body cameras, I have been asked about what cameras on the market are capable of,” James said. “Today, we saw that many of the concerns around size, weight and functionality have already been addressed by the companies producing this technology.
“We are living in an increasingly technological world, and we should take measures to incorporate video cameras into policing to improve public safety. We must continue to improve the relationship between the NYPD and our communities, beginning with a system that promotes more transparency and responsibility.”