NEW YORK—If the city’s public advocate gets her way, a trial program for body-worn NYPD police cameras will be up and running by the beginning of 2015.
“We must turn this low point…into a turning point,” said Public Advocate Letitia James in her office on Monday, referring to recent unrest over alleged police brutality.
The proposal for a pilot program of police body cameras comes against the backdrop of alleged police violence in the death of Eric Garner, who died while being taken into custody by the NYPD. The scene was recorded by a bystander with a cell phone, who was also arrested a few days later.
James spoke at a press conference to announce her proposed plan for the cameras in the city’s police precincts with the highest incidents of police misconduct complaints and crime. She said cameras would help keep police accountable, as well as protect them from unfounded allegations of abuse.
A similar pilot program was ordered by Judge Shira Scheindlin last year, but its implementation has been delayed because of related legal proceedings. Her ruling was part of the result of a lawsuit against the city for its use of the controversial stop-question-and-frisk tactic employed by the NYPD. Her order however, if fulfilled, would only have tested the cameras in five precincts.
“We don’t know if and when the ruling will go into effect,” said James, who is proposing to Mayor Bill de Blasio that the city move forward with its own pilot program.
By James’s estimate, it would cost $5 million to equip 15 percent of the city’s police force for the program. She pointed out that compared to the $152 million the city paid out in judgements last year, the amount was nominal.
“By using body cameras on the NYPD, we’ll increase transparency,” she said.
There is early support for the measure from the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project, which represents some 20,000 city vendors. According to the organization, vendors are often subject to harassment or witness wrongdoing on the part of authorities, but find it difficult to take video and keep the camera rolling in intense and emotionally-charged scenarios where they might also get arrested.