Next month, the NYPD will appear in court to answer a lawsuit filed by NY1, seeking access to footage shot by some of its police body cameras. Now, state legislation has been introduced to make sure that video is available to the public. Zack Fink filed the following report.
In December of 2014, the NYPD launched a pilot program in which 54 police officers were equipped with body cameras to record interactions with the public. The program is set to be expanded some time this year to include 1,000 officers.
Curious about the pilot program, NY1 filed a Freedom of Information Law Request, also known as a FOIL, for the footage from those body cameras. But the department said it would cost $36,000 to have that footage properly edited for release. NY1 sued in January, claiming that fee was excessive and that the footage was a matter of the public record.
But now, legislation is being considered in Albany that would require police body camera footage be made available through FOIL.
"What we want to ensure, and what this bill would ensure, is that footage would be open to public view, that there would be transparency," said Assemblyman Daniel Quart of Manhattan.
Last year, in an interview on Inside City Hall, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said that if he had his way, the recordings would never be public.
"We have never released 911 calls, and video recorded by these officers, I think it would be under the same protection of not being released, even to FOIL requests," Bratton said in September 2015.
But last month, in a letter to state Senator Daniel Squadron, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, the commissioner changed his tune. Bratton says, "The New York City Police Department believes that the videos captured by the body-worn cameras are records that are subject to FOIL and its exemptions."
"The commissioner being clear that body camera footage is in fact eligible for FOIL, which he had said it was not before, is great news for the public and great news as we expand this technology," Squadron said.
Ten states nationside have already passed legislation governing how body camera footage gets released to the public. Similiar legislation is pending in 23 other states.
The NYPD and NY1 are scheduled to appear in court June 7.