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Skepticism of NYPD Body Camera Program Dominates Jamaica Town Hall Meeting

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | July 27, 2016 11:12am
 Councilman Ruben Wills (left) hosted a town hall about police body cameras along with the NYPD and the Policing Project at New York University.
Councilman Ruben Wills (left) hosted a town hall about police body cameras along with the NYPD and the Policing Project at New York University.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — Jamaica residents who came to a town hall meeting Tuesday night expressed skepticism over police body cameras, a program that seeks to bring more transparency and accountability to interactions between officers and New Yorkers. 

The NYPD, which was forced to introduce the initiative after a federal judge found the city’s stop-and-frisk policing practice unconstitutional, expects to roll out 1,000 body cameras at 20 precincts as part of the pilot program sometime this fall.

The equipment will be used to record all arrests and any use of force, according to the NYPD, which is currently finalizing its body-worn camera policy.

But many residents who came to the town hall hosted by Councilman Ruben Wills, along with the NYPD and the Policing Project at New York University at Calvary Baptist Church located at 111-10 Guy R Brewer Blvd. in Jamaica, said they were skeptical about the program, especially after police body cameras worn by officers during the fatal shooting of Donald Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fell off.

“Who is really benefiting from it?" asked Andrew Simpson, 34. "Who do the videos really protect — the officers or the people you are supposed to be serving?"

Simpson also said that in his opinion, the money allocated to pay for the program would be better spent to retrain officers who need it.

"We can produce our own videos and the videos have been produced so many times but yet these officers are not held accountable for their deplorable attitudes and their acts," he noted. 

Patrick Evans, 52, of Eastern Queens Alliance was also doubtful. 

“We don’t need them,” he said about the cameras. “What we do need is prosecution — we need people to be prosecuted for illegal acts that they do under the shield.”

Other participants asked who specifically will be wearing the cameras, how many incidents it will take before officers are disciplined, how long the videos will be stored, how can the public be sure that officers turn the cameras on during arrests, and whether there will be any independent oversight of the program.

But Wills defended the program.

"I think that when someone is actually having a device that is attached to them that is recording their movements during their everyday engagement with the public, I think that that alone is going to give them pause," the councilman said, adding that the program needs to be combined with retraining of the officers.

"A lot of this is going to make sure there is an equal footing for law enforcement as well as citizens in our community to get justice."

NYPD representatives at the town hall meeting said the program will benefit both sides.

“I think it’s a win-win situation for the officers as well as the community and the public,” said Deputy Inspector Frederick Grover, commanding officer of the 113th Precinct in South Jamaica.

“It does create an extraordinary level of transparency and there is a lot of good things that will come out of the body worn cameras — accountability for the officers as well as the public and the community,” Grover added.

The NYPD is currently conducting a survey asking New Yorkers to share their thoughts about the program. The survey, available on a website designed to get feedback about the initiative, can be filled out anonymously until Aug. 7.

So far, about 25,000 people have taken the survey and their comments are being analyzed by the department and the Policing Project, officials said.

Recently, the NYPD also sent out an email to its 36,000 officers asking them to voice their opinions and concerns about the program, officials said.