Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New York Police Test Body Cameras: Effective Deterrent or Privacy Violation?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New York Police Test Body Cameras: Effective Deterrent or Privacy Violation?

Article excerpt

After years of intense scrutiny of its street tactics, the New York Police Department announced Thursday that it would begin a pilot program to have its officers wear body cameras while on the beat.

Sixty cameras will be deployed for officers on patrol over the next few months. These will be distributed to one high-crime precinct in each of New York's five boroughs, as well as to one public housing district, the department said.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said body-worn cameras are "the next wave" in the future of police equipment, comparing the technology to the introduction of hand-held radios and bulletproof vests in decades past. And he said their use would be beneficial to both cops and citizens during encounters on the street.

"The idea is the person understands that they are being recorded, and there is an ability to test the veracity through the use of the camera devices," Commissioner Bratton said during a press conference Thursday. "Sometimes, being quite frank with you, complainants lie - - bald-faced lies. And I think, clearly, the officer, knowing that it's being recorded -- in most instances it will affect the behavior of the officers in a good way. I think he or she will feel it's an additional protection for them."

The pilot program in the nation's largest police force comes after a summer of unrest in the city, sparked by the killing of Eric Garner in July, who was placed in an apparent chokehold, banned by police policy, after he resisted his arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. The episode was vividly captured by bystanders' smartphones, and is currently being investigated by the district attorney. In August, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide.

The issue of police cameras - both body-worn and on the dashboards of cruisers - also came into sharp focus this summer after a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shot and killed unarmed teen Michael Brown, sparking often-violent protests and roiling the nation's minority communities. The circumstances of the shooting are still disputed fiercely.

Body-worn cameras could help shed light on "he said, she said"- like controversies, Bratton said. "But it is not the end all."

Last summer, a federal judge ordered the NYPD to begin such a pilot program after she found the department's use of stop-and- frisk to be an illegal shakedown of mostly minority citizens. The judge, Shira Scheindlin of New York's southern district, ordered the department to have officers begin to wear cameras in at least five precincts across the city.

Despite the similarity, Bratton said the pilot program announced Thursday is "independent of the order." The program, too, comes weeks before the US Justice Department is expected to issue guidelines on police-worn cameras.

Members of the NYPD's rank and file reacted cautiously to the announcement. …

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