Dept. of Justice Finds Satisfaction With Police Body Cameras, Coming Soon to NYC


A Department of Justice report on the police use of body-mounted cameras found generally positive feelings about the technology in departments across the country. A survey of 254 agencies found that most of the departments that had actually instituted a body camera program — 63, by its count — said the benefits “largely outweigh the drawbacks.”

The report comes on the heels of the NYPD’s announcement earlier this month that it would begin a body camera pilot program, news that was viewed with mixed feelings from some civil rights groups. Cameras have been in the department’s future since a ruling last year in Floyd v. City of New York, a case that challenged the department’s stop-and-frisk program and found widespread abuses and racially biased enforcement. A test program using body cameras was one of the steps the department was ordered to take as part of the ruling.

Everyone from Mayor Bill de Blasio to Public Advocate Letitia James to the Civilian Complaint Review Board has thrown their support behind the camera proposal. Other, much smaller departments that have experimented with the cameras have seen a dramatic decline in use-of-force complaints, and they’re increasingly being talked about nationwide as a way both to ensure accountability for police officers and to protect them from unwarranted accusations.

The DOJ’s report raised many of the same issues that the NYPD has raised, citing worries that constant video monitoring might make it hard to carry out some of the informal but critical tasks of policing. Would crime victims be hesitant to speak with officers if they knew they were being recorded? Would witnesses shy way from a cop with a camera? The DOJ’s recommendations are in line with some of the NYPD’s stated parameters, like allowing officers to control when the cameras are turned on or off.

As the New York Times reported when the cameras were announced, the city will test two models, one by manufacturer Vievu, designed to be worn on a shirtfront, and one designed by Taser International that can be clipped to sunglasses or worn on an officer’s lapel. The cameras will be worn by officers in five of the precincts that were most heavily affected by the stop-and-frisk program, plus the unit that patrols public housing.

The NYPD’s announcement was greeted with caution by the two groups that originally brought the Floyd case. While the New York Civil Liberties Union called it a “win win,” the organization also raised some concerns.

The Center for Constitutional Rights said the Floyd plaintiffs were “outraged” by the department’s unilateral move, lamenting that there hadn’t been a collaborative process in designing the program.

Read the DOJ’s report on the next page.

Body Cam DOJ Recs