Body-Cam Rollout Rules Put in Place for New York City Police

A police officer in 2017 wears a newly issued body camera at the 34th precinct in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Any time a New York City police shooting leads to the injury or death of a civilian, the NYPD must publicly release footage from officers’ body-worn cameras within a month, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered Tuesday. 

“We recognize the power of body-worn cameras,” de Blasio said at a briefing in the city this morning. “When people see this kind of transparency, it will build trust.”

The new policy obligates the NYPD to release and eventually publish online all audio and video of officers’ interactions that involve gunshots fired in public spaces, the deployment of tasers and the use of force that results in death or substantial bodily injury.

“Effective immediately, the NYPD’s 24,000 body cameras now have a mandatory 30 day release policy,” he tweeted Tuesday morning.

The footage will first be shown to the family involved in the incidents and ultimately made available to the public as a whole, the mayor said Tuesday. “When people see this kind of transparency, it will build trust,” he said. 

This new policy expands upon the department’s previous policy, which allowed the police commissioner 30 days to decide to release footage in incidents where an officer’s use of either a taser or a firearm resulted in death or serious physical injury, and releasing footage is in public interest.

“When one of these three criteria is met, it is crucial that the information comes out promptly and that people have faith it will come out objectively,” de Blasio said.

“I believe in change because I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” he added. “I have seen the difference of neighborhood policing versus what we had before, which was aggressive and punitive and arrest-oriented. I’ve seen the difference of not choosing to arrest.”

The body-camera accountability policy was announced one day after Commissioner Dermot Shea disbanded the city’s precinct-level plainclothes units and began transitioning the roughly 600 officers of the anti-crime unit to other departments.

“Make no mistake, this is a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices this great city,” Shea said at a press conference Monday. “It will be felt immediately throughout the five district attorney’s offices, it will be felt immediately in the communities that we protect,” he added.

At the Tuesday morning briefing, de Blasio applauded Shea’s decision to end of the work of the controversial plainclothes unit and change to a more modern, community-based approach.

“So the really crucial decision to disband that unit and move us forward — deepening neighborhood policing, deepening the neighborhood connection between our police and the people of communities — that is a signature day for this city that change can happen,” the mayor said.

De Blasio said the city is committed to tackling a reallocation of the NYPD’s budget in the next two weeks, which would transfer some police department funds to youth services and social services.

“This is a permanent change and the personnel will be used in new and different ways to fight crime more effectively,” he said.

In response to Shea’s announcement, Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association union, warned that the city would have to reckon with the consequences of dismantling the proactive policing of the plainclothes unit. 

“Anti-Crime’s mission was to protect New Yorkers by proactively preventing crime, especially gun violence,” Lynch said in a statement Monday evening. “Shooting and murders are both climbing steadily upward, but our city leaders have clearly decided that proactive policing isn’t a priority anymore. They chose this strategy,” the union head added.

On Tuesday, de Blasio briefly condemned the often incendiary rhetoric of the heads of the city’s major police unions.

“The SBA leadership has engaged in racist activities so many times I can’t even count it,” he said of the NYPD sergeants’ union. 

“I’m just sick of it, I’ve been sick of it for years,” he added. “What I’ve seen of the SBA, and too often the PBA, is efforts to divide us, to hold us back, to create all sorts of negativity, to push back progress, to undermine at efforts at unity. It’s literally anti-social what these union leaders do.

“These police union leaders, not all of them, but too many of them stand in the way of progress,” he added.

Medical personnel work in the emergency department at NYC Health + Hospitals Metropolitan on May 27. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

At a separate press conference in Albany on Tuesday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo reiterated the mandate of his executive order signed last week, titled New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, which requires the state’s 500 local police departments to implement community-engaged police reforms by April 1, 2021, or risk losing state funding.

“We have 289 days to do the legislation on a local level, and once you have the legislation and you have a relationship that works for both parties, you can have reconciliation,” Cuomo said. “But this has to done, and it has to be done community by community.”

Cuomo focused more on the state’s gradual loosening of restrictions adopted in response to the Covid-19 global pandemic.

The governor said Tuesday that the state has conducted more than 3 million Covid-19 tests to date.

With just 1.05% of Monday’s tests were positive, out of some 60,568 tests, Cuomo said the state continues to see its lowest daily indicators — hospitalizations, deaths, and positive test rates — since mid-March.

Other announcements by Cuomo included the scheduling of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens, without fans, from Aug. 31–Sept. 13.

Cuomo also announced that hospitals and group homes will be allowed to accept visitors at their discretion. Group homes certified by the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities will be allowed to accept visitors beginning Friday provided they adhere to state guidance and certify compliance to New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities prior to commencing visitation. The prohibition on nursing home visitors remains in place as the state Department of Health continues to review.

As of midnight Monday, the coronavirus has killed 24,608 people in New York, according to the state health department. 

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