A decision on whether the NYPD has to publicly release video from police body cameras is now in the hands of a Manhattan judge. NY1's Bobby Cuza was in the courtroom today as she heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by the station, and filed this report.
"We have been asking for these records for over a year," said lawyer Saul Shapiro.
The we in this case is NY1, and the records we asked for under the Freedom of Information Law, known as FOIL, were five weeks' worth of footage from the NYPD’s police body cameras, first rolled out as a pilot program in late 2014.
After the NYPD demanded we pay $36,000 for the work involved in reviewing and editing the footage, NY1 filed a lawsuit that was heard in state court Tuesday.
"The police department’s response to this FOIL request is the exact antithesis of transparency and accountability," Shapiro said.
A city attorney arguing on the behalf of the NYPD said redacting the video to protect witnesses and address privacy and other concerns would require more than 2,500 man-hours, a cost that shouldn’t be borne by taxpayers.
"The burden here is overwhelming and unreasonable," said Jeffrey Dantowitz an attorney for the NYPD. "And we should not be required to comply with the FOIL request."
With the body camera program soon expanding to 1,000 officers, the case could help set a precedent for just how publicly accessible the footage will be.
"That is why NY1 has brought this case," Shapiro said. "So that the public, through NY1, can see the body cam footage. Because after all, what is the point of having a program like this if none of the footage is made public?"
The judge seemed to agree that completely withholding the footage undercuts the rationale for the program. The NYPD, meanwhile, did suggest it would consider a narrower request involving less footage, leaving open a possible compromise.
Now both sides await Judge Kathryn Freed’s ruling.