In response to constitutional rights violations committed by officers of the New York City Police Department, a U.S. federal court directed the NYPD to implement a body-worn camera program. As of March 2019, 20,000 uniformed patrol officers now wear body cameras. Civil rights activists have hailed body cams as a valuable tool for holding police officers accountable for their actions on the street and reducing incidents in which citizens claim the police used excessive force. The NYPD expects body cams to “encourage lawful and respectful interactions between the public and the police.”
NYPD Rules for Body Camera Recordings
NYPD regulations for body cam recordings include:
- Officers must record all responses to a crime in progress, interactions with criminal suspects and emotionally disturbed people, searches, arrests, and uses of force.
- Specific situations not to be recorded include strip searches, interviewing of sex crime victims, and conversations with confidential informants.
- Officers do not need anyone’s permission to record public interactions. However, officers have been directed to inform you when you are being recorded. When a person asks whether they are being recorded, the officer must answer honestly unless doing so “would compromise the safety of any person or impede an investigation.”
- The NYPD will keep all recordings for at least 18 months.
- Recordings related to a criminal case will be turned over to the prosecuting attorney’s office, who must provide the video to the defendant’s attorney along with other evidence as required by criminal discovery laws.
- Recordings may also be requested by the public through the Freedom of Information Act.
- Police officers may always view footage of an incident before making any official statement.
A February 2019 ruling by a New York state appeals court has ensured that the public will have access to police body cam recordings. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association challenged the release of body cam video to the public, arguing that it would violate a New York State privacy law, NYCL CVR section 50-a, that prevents the public release of any police officer’s personnel records except by court order. The court ruled that these recordings do not constitute a personnel record and that they must be released in order to achieve the “transparency, accountability, and public trust-building” objectives of the body-worn camera program.
Effects of NYC Body Cam Video on Criminal Prosecutions
The full effects of the NYPD’s body cam program will not be known for months, if not years. One immediate effect is that both prosecuting attorneys and NYC criminal defense lawyers will be spending significantly more time studying video footage from body cameras as well as other types of surveillance cameras. Whether a lawyer represents a citizen making a claim of police brutality, a police officer accused of a civil rights violation, or a person accused of a crime, they must quickly learn how to scrutinize and interpret body cam video.
Call an Aggressive New York City Criminal Defense Lawyer
At Watford Jackson, we know how to use every piece of evidence—including body camera video—to build a strong defense for you. When you need a Manhattan criminal defense attorney who will fight for your rights, call Watford Jackson, PLLC at 855-WAT-JACK or 855-928-5225.