The Bronx Defenders’ Perspective on Police Body-Worn Cameras

The essence of any police body-worn camera program should be the need for increased police accountability.  Economically marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, have long been over-policed, subjecting their residents to degrees of state oversight and intervention that would never be tolerated in suburban communities.  Examples of this have included so-called “broken windows policing,” recently discredited as ineffective by the NYPD’s own Inspector General, and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk practices.  In sum, the NYPD has initiated many thousands of interactions with community members that have been ineffective, illegal, or both.

This longstanding reality will only change when police behavior changes.  This requires accountability.  Body-worn cameras can be one source of accountability, but only if:

  • Civilians are informed when they are being recorded – otherwise, people could be recorded secretly.
  • Officers are not permitted to review camera footage before submitting a written report of an incident – otherwise, officers’ ability to tailor their reports to camera footage would undermine accountability.
  • Individual officers in the community have very little discretion regarding when cameras are turned on and off – otherwise, cameras could be turned off just before a potentially inappropriate interaction.
  • Civilians have prompt access to camera footage, particularly when they have been charged with a crime – otherwise, one side of the court proceeding, the prosecution, would have access long before the other, the civilian.
  • The public and media have prompt access to camera footage, particularly of high-profile incidents – otherwise, the public would be denied the opportunity to judge with their own eyes.