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NYPD officers to start testing department’s first on-body cameras

Posted at 12:14 PM, Dec 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-03 13:47:11-05

NEW YORK (PIX11) — It’s a matter of days before dozens of New York City police officers will step onto patrol with an extra set of eyes in a move expected to “fundamentally change” the relationship between police and the community.

On-body cameras — meant to record the behavior of officers and those civilians they encounter — soon will be part of the NYPD’s daily policing.

The first 50 cameras will be in the field and running by this weekend, Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

Bratton along with Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the start of the department’s body-cam pilot program at a news conference Wednesday in Queens.

He lauded the cameras as having the potential to eliminate the “he said, she said” confusion that often surrounds situations involving police officers and citizens.

Charged with policing a city of more than 8 million people, there are some 35,000 officers within the NYPD.

De Blasio said the cameras could “fundamentally change” the way those officers interact with the communities they serve. He emphasized that onlookers’ videos of violent encounters between police and subjects are crucial but don’t capture the entire story and may leave out key moments from the start of the encounter.

“When something happens, to have a video record of it from the police officer’s perspective … it’s going to improve the work of law enforcement and, God forbid something goes wrong, we’ll have a clearer picture of what happened,” de Blasio said.

About 50 officers from six precincts will test two types of on-body cameras during the next three months to learn how they work and hammer out logistics, such as privacy, battery life and activation methods.

Among those testers are officers from the 120th Precinct in Staten Island, where a high-profile in-custody death occurred in July and sparked the convening of a grand jury expected to make its decision soon on whether to indict the officer involved.

In that case, an onlooker captured video of Eric Garner’s arrest and death after the 43-year-old was put into a chokehold, outlawed by department policy for some two decades.

Unlike dash-cams inside NYPD vehicles that automatically start recording when an officer flips on the lights and sirens, activating body cameras would be up to the officer’s discretion, Bratton said.

Rules governing when an officer would have to active their camera are still being drafted.

Preliminary cost may be $1,200 a year for each device, Bratton said. He expects the program — which, for now, is voluntary — to be  implemented fully “over the next year or so.”

On-body cameras are the latest portion of department-wide reform including the end of low-level marijuana arrests, officer retraining, $130 million in mental health programs and a reinforced civilian review board.

Public Advocate Leticia James said the creation of law surrounding the cameras is still in flux. She did, however, call for data captured by the cameras to be held for three years, the length of time for the statute of limitations for claims against the department.

Having lobbied for the cameras since July, James said having an “objective record” of police-civilian encounters could save the city millions of dollars in legal costs. In the past five years, the city has shelled out nearly $1 billion on claims against the NYPD, she said.