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Vendor Chosen to Supply NYPD Body Cameras Concerns Harlem Pastors

By Dartunorro Clark | October 5, 2016 8:43am
 A dozen Harlem pastors gathered Tuesday to raise concerns about the company that could equip the NYPD with body cameras.
A dozen Harlem pastors gathered Tuesday to raise concerns about the company that could equip the NYPD with body cameras.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — Several black pastors called on the mayor Tuesday to dump the company chosen to provide body cameras to NYPD officers.

The city announced on Sept. 30 in the City Record that it had selected VieVu, a Seattle-based company, out of roughly 50 bidders in a proposed $6.4 million contract to roll out body cameras for the city’s police department. 

The pastors, however, questioned whether the cameras would be effective, citing reports of issues cities like Oakland, California, and Cincinnati, Ohio, have had with VieVu.

For instance, 25 percent of video footage was erased on body cameras in the Oakland Police Department during a routine software upgrade, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

“The product has failed in other cities. Let’s not rush it and do our due diligence,” the Rev. Keith Roberson, pastor of Southern Baptist Church, said at a press conference Tuesday at the church.

"I'm concerned about what faulty body cams would mean for the people of my community," he continued. "Footage from body cameras can prove vital in any case. We just can't afford footage loss or any room for human error, especially in communities of color where relationships with the police are already tense."

The Rev. Johnnie Green, pastor of Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, also questioned whether the cameras would improve transparency.

“We’re concerned not only for the lives of the citizens of New York but the lives of the police officers,” Green said. “The cameras not only benefit the community but the police officers, so they get the full story.”

Green, who joined forces with former mayor Michael Bloomberg's associate Bradley Tusk against de Blasio, said the death of Eric Garner is a prime example.

“The whole purpose of the camera is transparency… even with the video tape he was acquitted,” Green said, referring to the clearing of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was seen on cellphone footage administering an illegal chokehold to Garner during his arrest.

A representative for VieVu could not be reached for comment. 

However, the city said it plans to work with the manufacturer to make sure any kinks are worked out during a planned 2017 pilot program.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday at a press conference with reporters that by the end of 2017 the city will have at least 1,000 on the streets, and 5,000 cameras by 2018.

“There are very serious issues that have to be worked through in terms of confidentiality, in terms of the technology, the storage of information," he said.

“But we’ve been very, very clear about the complications and the challenges that come with doing it in the biggest city in the country with the biggest police force by far in the country.

“So we are going to be purposeful about getting it right.”

NYPD officials also said they have been in touch with cities, such as Oakland, to discuss the issues they had and the fixes VieVu put in place.

“We would not move forward if we weren’t comfortable that the VieVu cameras were going to provide good coverage and that we were going to be able to store the video in a responsible way,” said Jessica Tisch, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of information technology.

Benjamin Tucker, the NYPD’s first deputy commissioner, said the department plans to have a contract in place by the end of the year to roll out the pilot cameras by early next year.

Twenty precincts will be provided 50 cameras for officers. Tucker said the department plans to identify any issues before rolling the camera out across the city.

“This is a pilot project and we will continue to learn from the rollout,” he said.

But, the group of pastors said even a pilot program isn’t good enough given the reports regarding the company.

“We have the best police department in the country,” Green said. “Why not the very best cameras?”