New York joins other states across the country in pursuing body-worn camera (BWC) mandates for law enforcement officers in a growing effort to promote accountability and improve transparency in law enforcement. Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation, SB 8493, requiring all police officers in the state to wear body cameras. New York City alone will have more than 24,000 members of the department equipped with cameras, making it the largest BWC program in the United States.
A body camera mandate is viewed by many as a step in the right direction for building accountability and improving relationships between law enforcement and the community. It is worth noting, however, that New York is taking some steps which show when it comes to public records procedures, the “New York State of Mind” Billy Joel sang about can be described as a forward-looking one.
From expediting BWC footage release to creating an office to improve accountability and transparency, New York is taking proactive actions to help prevent future incidents of civil unrest and improve the relationship between the public and law enforcement.
Shining the Spotlight on Critical Incident Footage
Until recently, NYPD BWC policy stated that it was at the police commissioner’s discretion to release footage related to a “critical incident,” or an event where there is a use of force resulting in death or injury. Under a new policy recently implemented, footage related to critical incidents must now be released within 30 days of the event.
Similarly, the New York Attorney General’s office is taking steps to mitigate delays and increase transparency in the cases it investigates. New York Attorney General Letitia James has pledged the release of body camera footage in law enforcement misconduct cases will be expedited when the office is involved in an investigation.
Like other jurisdictions, New York’s BWC policy allows for redaction of private or sensitive information in order to maintain a balance between civil rights and transparency. To remain compliant with the 30-day timeline now in place, New York could benefit from automated redaction software, available under a partnership with GovQA and Veritone.
Police Disciplinary Records Become Public Knowledge
In conjunction with the critical incident announcement, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that disciplinary records of officers will be made available. Information on every pending case in the department will become public record and includes:
- Hearing dates
- Case resolutions.
Citizens will have access to these public records online and the mayor’s office stated that information on more than 1,000 pending cases would be available soon after the mayor’s new policy was announced. Though the announcement was initially met with some objection within police unions, de Blasio pointed to the goal of improving transparency in the NYPD. In response to police representatives who spoke out against this decision, de Blasio stated, “Transparency is not something to fear but something to embrace because that’s where trust and faith will deepen when people see that all this information is out in the open.”
How Will Public Records Oversight be Impacted?
As New York moves toward expediting BWC footage in some cases and creating new public records, it stands to reason that there will be an impact on oversight of these records. With the largest deployment of body cameras in the nation, it is estimated that around 130,000 videos will be generated every week.
Under SB 3595, New York has established the Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office to review, audit, and make recommendations to police agencies. The newly created office intends to:
- Enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement
- Increase public safety
- Protect civil liberties and civil rights
- Ensure compliance with constitutional protections and laws
- Increase the public’s confidence in law enforcement.
Establishing the Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office is viewed as a preventive measure to reduce misconduct and provides additional independent observation to address systemic shortcomings. New York recognized the need to provide a clearer path to public records and transparency and, in response, established this office.
A Proactive Approach with Progressive Technology
As BWC mandates are implemented across the country, there is an imminent need for law enforcement agencies to create a plan for compliance. A proactive mindset, supported by innovative technology, allows agencies to tackle public records requests head-on. As public records grow in volume and complexity, partnering with a progressive partner can help streamline requests.
The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, live roundtables, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to email@example.com.