Outfitting Officers in High-Crime Areas Would Cost About $32 Million, Public Advocate Says
City Public Advocate Letitia James is urging that police in high-crime areas be outfitted with body cameras.Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal
City Public Advocate Letitia James on Thursday proposed a pilot program that would outfit dozens of New York Police Department officers in high-crime precincts with body-mounted cameras.
"This summer we've seen some really powerful images in Missouri and New York City in the aftermath of … Michael Brown and Eric Garner, " Ms. James said. Cameras, she said, "would go a long way toward providing an objective record of what happened either before or after an incident."
In July, Mr. Garner was placed in an apparent chokehold by a NYPD officer after he resisted arrest on Staten Island. He died about an hour after the confrontation. And in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9, teenager Michael Brown was killed by a police officer. Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner were unarmed and the incidents have drawn national attention.
While not making the final selection, Ms. James's office is testing two brands of cameras that are the size of a pager and cost between $400 and $900 each. In other cities where the cameras are used—such as New Orleans and San Diego—Ms. James said they have helped reduce the burden of civil suits against police.
With all eyes on Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, a renewed focus is being put on police transparency. Is the solution body-mounted cameras for police officers?
"In cases where police officers are falsely accused of police misconduct it will exonerate them," Ms. James said. With a recording, she added, "there's no room for discussion."New York City spends about $152 million on police misconduct settlements a year, she said. Outfitting every patrol officer with a camera would cost about $32 million, and the pilot program would cost about $5 million, Ms. James said.
In August 2012, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered the NYPD to start an officer camera pilot program in the one precinct in each borough that has the highest use of stop-and-frisk among officers. The NYPD hasn't selected a camera vendor or started its pilot program.
The NYPD didn't return requests for comment on Ms. James's proposal.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, asked to comment, referred to the mayor's comments at a news conference on July 28 when he said camera technology is "not something that has been perfected yet, and it's something that has to be worked on quite a bit to be used on the kind of scale we're talking about here."
Mr. de Blasio added, "But I certainly think it's a productive idea, and it will, I think, ultimately improve the relationship between police and community."
Public Advocate Letitia James shows a body camera for use in police stops on Thursday. Keith Bedford for the Wall Street Journal
Cameras often can have a role in community-police relations as many people witnessing interactions with law-enforcement authorities instinctively reach for their phones to record events.
Elijah Brown, 27, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, said video footage from a neighbor recently helped clear his name after an arrest.
On Aug. 2, Mr. Brown, an Education Department employee, was arrested by officers from Brooklyn's 73rd precinct, after he complained that police were harassing neighbors outside his nephew's second birthday party.
He said the officers got physical with him during the arrest. The NYPD said details of Mr. Brown's arrest are sealed, but confirmed its date and location. The Brooklyn district attorney's office said Mr. Brown's case was dismissed after his arraignment on Aug. 3.
"I think these cameras will hold NYPD accountable," Mr. Brown said. "My sister's a cop, too—I would love for her to have a camera to show everything that is going on."