A federal judge in Manhattan has ordered the first steps of a new body-worn camera pilot program for the New York City Police Department, which will study requiring officers to engage their cameras at an earlier stage in encounters with people.
Late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres ordered the parties in the set of cases under Floyd v. City of New York to submit a joint proposal for a new pilot to study the impact of officers activating cameras during so-called Level 1 stops.
These stops are the most basic interactions police can have, requiring only an objective credible reason to approach a person. Yet, as Torres noted, the pilot program currently in place with the department does not require officers to engage their cameras until a Level 2 stop, where officers have a founded suspicion of criminality.
Advocates and attorneys for the plaintiffs in the collected cases call the order a win in their efforts to ensure the police department is complying with the court’s orders on the department’s stops policy.
“There’s clearly an underreporting, and I would even say a massive underreporting, of stops,” said Beldock Levine & Hoffman partner Jonathan Moore, an attorney for the Floyd plaintiffs. “I think it reflects the court’s understanding … that there’s a serious underreporting problem, and it’s got to be addressed somehow.”
A report to the court in May on the recent history of police and community relations recommended that patrol officers be required to activate their cameras during Level 1 encounters. As Torres noted, the report’s author stated that Level 1 encounters feel like detaining stops to those approached by the police, and that “many investigative encounters quickly escalate” to higher-level encounters requiring body-camera activation.
The NYPD opposed the recommendation, arguing in a filing quoted by Torres that “[r]ecording Level 1 encounters has serious privacy implications and may have a chilling effect on community-police interactions.”
Torres’ order, then, sets Oct. 19 for the joint proposal, which will include a plan to assess whether activation at Level 1 enhances the department’s ability to capture encounters that escalate and a plan for considering the concerns expressed by the department.
Spokesmen for the NYPD and the city’s Law Department did not provide a comment when requested.
The body-worn camera pilot program was implemented after the court found in 2013 that the NYPD had violated the constitutional rights of people subjected to its stop-and-frisk program. Specifically, the decision, by retired U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, said the department engaged in a policy of indirect racial profiling.
As part of the remedies, the department was instructed to start a pilot program for the use of body-worn cameras, which has been supervised by the monitor overseeing the court’s order, Peter Zimroth.
Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the use of body-worn cameras has been on a fast track, with the mayor’s office announcing in January that all officers on patrol would be equipped with the cameras by the end of 2018, a year earlier than planned.
Torres’ order on the body-camera pilot program comes on the heels of another order in July for another pilot program based on a recommendation from the May report to the court regarding the documentation of Level 1 and 2 police encounters. Currently, only encounters at the top two levels in the four-level framework are required. The author’s report indicated doing so was essential to understanding “the extent to which police are initiating encounters on the basis of race.”
For Beldock Levine’s Moore, the two recommendations are tandem efforts by the court to determine, four years after Floyd was decided, whether the police department was fully complying with the court’s orders.
“Everybody accepts the proposition in these cases that there’s no reliability of the [stop] statistic that are occurring on a yearly basis,” Moore said. “These two pilot programs that [Torres has] ordered are really designed to determine if there’s a way to create a reporting scheme that ensures all stops are being recorded, that all encounters are being reported.”