BY TRONE DOWD
Nearly 100 Southeast Queens residents filled up the basement of the Calvary Baptist Church in Jamaica Tuesday night in order to discuss the details of the soon to be implemented police body cameras.
Organized by Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), the open mic town hall was meant to give members of the Southeast Queens community a chance to better understand how and why police body cams will help encourage better policing practices. It was also an opportunity to give police direct feedback, influencing how the cameras will be implemented.
The NYPD has been working with New York University School of Law to help form the program. Efforts came after federal Judge Shira Scheindlin issued a court order to the department to incorporate the practice to “alleviate some of the mistrust that has developed between the police and the black and Hispanic communities.”
“Body-worn cameras can fundamentally change the nature of the daily interactions between NYPD officers and the public,” Wills said. “This policy will be one of the most impactful in recent memory, and the Department’s openness to the suggestions of individuals who have endured the pain and humiliation of excessive and unequal force will determine its effectiveness. This is a rare opportunity for everyday citizens to weigh-in on a consequential program, and I wanted to do everything possible to encourage the community’s cooperation in the process.”
There to help facilitate information and answer questions were several executive members of the NYPD and the organizations helping with the body camera program including Queens Patrol Borough South Chief David Barrere and commanding officer of the 113th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Frederick Grover, Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD Risk Management Bureau Nancy Hoppock and NYU Policing Project Deputy Director Maria Ponomarenko.
The first test with body cameras was conducted in late 2013 in a single precinct in each borough. In Queens, the 103rd Precinct was selected for the test run. In 2014, a pilot program to experiment with the technology was conducted for over a year on 54 officers department wide. Officers’ feedback was taken into account to understand what worked and didn’t work. The upcoming, larger-scale test run is being targeted to launch in late 2016. The current plan is to equip officers working the 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift in 20 precincts with cameras by early 2017.
Hoppock said that they have met with defense attorneys, victim groups, community groups in order to draft a citywide policy. They are now taking that draft to the public for further adjustments.
Residents at the Town Hall were very forward about their current concerns for police misconduct, and skeptical of how the cameras would help alleviate these issues. One resident believed that money would be better spent on retraining officers, something Hoppock said is already being done. When Hoppock asked whether having cameras rolling at all times would be a better alternative, nearly the entire room responded with a collective yes.
Both Wills’ office and Democratic District leader Anthony Andrews are working to spread the word of the surveys to clergy, local groups and residents of the 106th, 105th, 103rd and 113th precincts. The NYPD will also continue to get feedback from communities citywide in the coming months.
Despite their constituents’ reluctance, both Barrere and Grover were very optimistic about the cameras.
“We were actually pretty anxious to come,” Grover said of the Wills’ town hall. “I think it’s a win-win situation for the officers as well as the community. I think the body worn cameras will get us into some dialogue back and forth. It creates an extraordinary level of transparency. There’s a lot of good things that will come out of this. Accountability for the officers and the public. Down the road I think we’ll hear some good stories.”
Barrere stressed the importance of getting the community feedback and input.
Queens residents are encouraged to take part in the survey by going to nypdbodycameras.com. The online portal will close Aug. 7.
One of the main focuses of the night was explaining how the cameras would be used. Here are just a few specifics:
• In all cases of police intervention, from traffic stops to arrests, officers will be required to turn on their cameras. Hoppock explained that there will be no discretion when it comes to recording interactions. Officers who fail to do so will be punished accordingly.
• Members of the public however can ask an officer to stop recording and it is up to the officer to agree or disagree based on the situation.
• Videos will be kept for a minimum of six months. Videos with incriminating material will be kept longer depending on the offense
• Officers will be allowed to view their own footage but are barred from editing or deleting said footage. The public on the other hand will have access to the footage through the Freedom of Information Act.
• Officers may not record sensitive issues that they may come across. This may include speaking with confidential informants, victims of sex crimes, strip searches, visits to medical facilities, public protests, etc.
•The NYPD Federal Monitor, Officer Supervisors, Integrity Control Officers and an NYPD Audit Unit will all have a hand in reviewing these videos, ensuring compliance with policy and proper action is being taken.
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly