Omniveillance: Remedy to NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Program – “Body-Worn Cameras”

August 12th, 2013

There will be much commentary about Judge Scheindlin finding that New York’s stop-and-frisk program is unconstitutional. But one of her required remedies has some privacy implications beyond stop-and-frisk–she mandates that at least five precincts equip their officers with body-worn cameras. She discusses the cameras on pp. 25-28 of the order. Here is an excerpt:

Because body-worn cameras are uniquely suited to addressing the constitutional harms at issue in this case, I am ordering 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 Monitor will establish procedures for the review of stop recordings by supervisors and, as appropriate, more senior managers. The Monitor will also establish procedures for the preservation of stop recordings for use in verifying complaints in a manner that protects the privacy of those stopped. Finally, the Monitor will establish procedures for measuring the effectiveness of body-worn cameras in reducing unconstitutional stops and frisks. At the end of the year, the Monitor will work with the parties to determine whether the benefits of the cameras outweigh their financial, administrative, and other costs, and whether the program should be terminated or expanded. The City will be responsible for the costs of the pilot project.

It’s not surprising that the NYPD wants cameras watching everyone–but their own officers.

It would have been preferable for this remedy to have originated with the NYPD, which has been a leader and innovator in the application of technology to policing, as Compstat illustrates.

Of course, this does raise the issue of further pervasive surveillance. Now, an army of officers will be recording everything. Though, as Judge Scheindlin notes, the only people being recorded will be those around officers.

While the logistical difficulties of using body- worn cameras will be greater in a larger police force, the potential for avoiding constitutional violations will be greater as well.