In response to the case of a Staten Island man who died in a cop’s chokehold, the New York City Public Advocate called Monday on Mayor de Blasio to curb bad police behavior by equipping officers with body cameras.
Letitia James implored de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and the City Council to support her proposal for a body-cam pilot program, saying, “We need action today!”
“Simply rewriting the rules is not enough,” said James, apparently referring to Bratton’s plan to retrain all officers in the use of force in the wake of Eric Garner’s death.
Garner died July 17 when a plainclothes police officer put him in an NYPD-prohibited chokehold while trying to arrest him for selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island street.
A witness videotaped the incident in which Garner repeatedly pleaded “I can’t breathe” before going lifeless on the sidewalk. The city medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide.
James proposal expands on one ordered by federal Judge Shira Scheindlin in her 2013 ruling that the stop-and-frisk tactics by the NYPD violated the constitutional rights of minorities. Scheindlin ordered body cameras be worn in one precinct per borough based on which had the most stop and frisks.
“A final ruling in that case is still pending. We do not know if and when that will go into effect, but we need action today, and that is why I am proposing this initiative,” James said. “Our recommendation goes further than the program proposed in Judge Scheindlin’s opinion; we are calling for a pilot to be followed by city-wide implementation.”
The NYPD said it was already working on implementing body cams.
“The NYPD is exploring the feasibility of camera technology that will outfit officers and/or equip department vehicles. In the process of doing so, there are various technological, legal and logistical concerns that must be addressed before making a final decision,” said Deputy Chief Kim Royster, the department’s spokewoman.
In a report she released, James said the cameras would cost $450 to $900 each and estimated that 15% of the police force can be fitted with body cameras for under $5 million. Eventually the program would be expected to all patrol officers.
“This figure is far less than the $152 million in court judgments and settlements paid by the City as a result of allegedly improper NYPD conduct,” James report claims.
James predicted the camera pilot program could reduce police brutality lawsuits, saving the city millions of dollars a year. She noted that one California city that equipped cops with wearable cameras saw an 88% drop in claims of police misconduct in one year.
At a press conference at her office, James said she would like to see the camera program first implemented in “precincts with the highest rates of police misconduct and crime.”
“And to ultimately implement the use of body cameras for patrol officers in all precincts in the city,” James said.
James said she had scheduled a meeting with the NYPD Patrolman’s Benevolent Association to discuss the plan.
“We are reserving our decision on body cameras until we see some real evidence of their effectiveness and impact on the officers who carry them,” PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement Monday.
“The Public Advocate cites the $152 million that the city spends on lawsuits against police officers but what she fails to say is that the city refuses to fight even the most ridiculous and baseless of the claims,” Lynch said. “Instead, they settle these ridiculous suits when they should fight everyone them to conclusion which would effectively put an end to quick buck lawsuits against our officers.”
Civil rights attorney Earl Ward, former commissioner of the city Civilian Complaint Review Board, said cameras would be just as beneficial to police officers as civilians.
He said officers wrongly accused of misconduct would have the opportunity to go to the video to prove their innocence.
“As a civil rights attorney, I can only say that body cameras are a no-brainer,” Ward said. “It creates an objective record.”
Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organization Project, said he is also onboard with James’ plan. He said having cops wear cameras would “curb officers’ objectionable practices and hold them accountable when they abuse their authority.”
Body cams have already been used in over 3,000 police departments like Fort Worth, Texas, Greenboro, N.C., and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department surrounding Kansas City, Mo., said officials from two major manufacturers, Taser International and VIEVU.