If NYC Police Are Worried About New Crime Wave They Should All Wear Video Cameras


Bodyworn Camera

Back in August, Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) pervasive stop-and-frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of citizens to be unmolested by the authorities. In addition, Judge Scheindlin ordered

…the NYPD to institute a pilot project in which bodyworn cameras will be worn for a one-year period by officers on patrol in one precinct per borough -- specifically the precinct with the highest number of stops during 2012.

The outgoing Bloomberg administration has now successfully sued to have the judge thrown off the case and her orders have been put on hold.  In addition, Peter Vallone, the city council's biggest booster of aggressive policing tactics is now worried that two new ordinances will dampened police crime fighting efforts leading to a new crime wave in the Big Apple. As Capital New York reports:

"We are in for what I've been warning about, and we're already seeing it," Vallone said, sitting in a cafe on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria. "There's going to be a major crime increase."

Vallone, whose positions on policing put him far to the right of most of his fellow Democrats on the Council, was referring to what he believes will be the effects of two new laws increasing oversight of the NYPD which passed with the vocal backing of New York City's next mayor. 

One law creates an inspector general to oversee police policy and a second facilitates lawsuits against the department, in certain circumstances, for allegations of bias.

Critics warn that lawsuits against the police are going to proliferate and cost the city millions. Well, actually as Bloomberg News has reported, settling lawsuits against the NYPD for abuse already cost the city $735 million in 2012.

Fortunately, as Judge Scheindlin noted in her order, there is a hi-tech solution to the many of these problems: require cops to wear video cameras on the job. As I reported in my column, "Watched Cops Are Polite Cops," requiring police officers to wear cameras is a win/win for both police and citizens:

Earlier this year, a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent.

Just this week, the Washington Post reported similar results in the city of Laurel, MD:

The city started using the device six months ago. Since then, Chief Rich McLaughlin says, complaints against officers have gone down and so has the use of police force.

"It keeps everybody in check, on both sides," he said….

When they were first told they had to film every encounter, some officers in Laurel were not thrilled, McLaughlin said. But now they come to him asking for the cameras. He just ordered a new batch, and now nearly all 70 officers have them.

Officers from nearby cities "ask, 'Oh, how do you like Big Brother?'" said Officer Matt Jordan. "But I don't have a problem with it. I like it."

The camera helped clear him after a citizen complaint, Jordan said. Once, it defused a confrontation outside a bar: "As soon as they saw the cameras, they left." In court cases, they've been used to secure a drug-related guilty plea and prove that an officer was shoved….

The American Civil Liberties Union, which generally is wary of surveillance, recently expressed support for the cameras. But the organization acknowledges the privacy concerns of the police and the public, and its support comes with conditions.

"I absolutely know this tool will transform policing," Scott Greenwood, a police accountability attorney and general counsel for the ACLU, said in an interview. "It's an unalloyed good, provided that policies are in place that mandate the use of devices rather than leaving it up to the discretion of the officers."

With proper rules governing the release and retention of video, I concluded:

It gives citizens better protection against police misconduct and against violations of their constitutional rights. And it protects good cops against unfair accusations, too. Requiring police to wear video cameras should be universally adopted sooner rather than later.

Anyone worried about a "crime wave" should be advocating the adoption of this sensible policy.