It was more than a year ago that several dozen NYPD officers began wearing body cameras under a pilot program that is soon to be expanded more widely, but none of the footage captured by officers has ever been seen by the public, something NY1 is fighting in court in order to change. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
When the NYPD first rolled out its body camera pilot program, the idea was increased transparency and accountability. But last spring when NY1 requested five weeks worth of footage under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, known as FOIL, the NYPD said it would cost NY1 $36,000 so that an officer could first review and edit the video, to address privacy and other concerns.
"It’s pretty clear to us that they come up with this figure and this hurdle as a way of kind of deterring us, to say, 'Alright, we don’t really—we’re not going to follow through. We don’t really care.' But we do care, and we want to see how it works," said NY1 News Director Dan Jacobson.
So, after a subsequent appeal was denied, NY1 this week filed a lawsuit in state court, accusing the NYPD of violating FOIL, which doesn’t allow government agencies to charge for locating and reviewing records. The department, though, has noted there are exceptions to the law, like when footage depicts information that relates to an investigation or could endanger the life of a witness, and that for the NYPD to assume the full cost of the editing process is an unreasonable burden.
"We have never released 911 calls, and video recorded by these officers, I think, would be under the same protection of not being released, even to FOIL requests," said Police Commissioner William Bratton.
Civil liberties advocates say technological hurdles are no excuse for withholding public records.
"Something that is about increased transparency should not be taken off our radar screen because it’s too complicated," said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Meanwhile, the NYPD is currently in the process of expanding its body camera program to 1,000 officers, even as key issues remain unresolved.
"Does the police department know how effective these cameras are? Does the administration know how effective they are, or what they’ve capturing?" Jacobson said. "I don’t know that anyone’s reviewed it. Maybe they have. But we haven’t seen it, and in turn, the public hasn’t seen what’s on these tapes."
Whether they ever will could now be decided in court.