MANHATTAN (CN) - Undermining a transparency pledge, New York City Police Department broke freedom-of-information law by slapping a $36,000 price tag on arbitrarily censored footage, the local news outlet NY1 claims in court.
NY1, a Time Warner subsidiary, opens its Jan. 13 complaint with a brief history of the Body-Worn Camera program adopted with some reluctance by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin mandated body cams for the department a little more than two years ago to protect black and Latino New Yorkers from unjustified racial profiling in the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program.
The idea gained traction around the country amid nationwide protest against police killings of unarmed, black citizens.
"With the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jr., Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, and others after encounters with the police routinely appearing as front-page news, the stated purpose of the [body-worn camera] program was to 'provide transparency, accountability, and protection for both the police officers and those they serve,'" the 28-page complaint filed in Manhattan Supreme Court states.
The quotation refers to a joint statement by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James during the program's launch Sept. 4, 2014.
"New York City will do everything it takes to stay the safest big city in the nation," they said at the time. "This means testing new methods and staying ahead of the curve on emerging technologies like body cameras."
NY1 reporter Courtney Gross says she put the city's soaring words to the test months later with a request for five weeks of unedited video files.
The NYPD cited at least six exemptions to block the release of the raw footage, which the department argued would invade individual privacy, compromise confidential investigation and endanger people depicted in the video.
NY1 says that the department never explained why the footage was exempt, and imposed a five-figure "copying fee," in violation of state Freedom of Information Law.
The New York City Law Department declined to comment.
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