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NYPD's Body Camera Manufacturer Called 'Faulty' by Other Police Departments

By James Fanelli | February 3, 2017 12:41pm
 A body camera used by the NYPD for the first pilot program in 2014.
A body camera used by the NYPD for the first pilot program in 2014.
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CIVIC CENTER — Body cameras made by the firm chosen by the NYPD to equip its officers have recently either been scrapped or called into question by three police departments nationally, DNAinfo New York has learned.

The firm VieVu was selected to provide New York City's officers with the video-capturing technology. 

Last month, the Ohio's Chillicothe Police Department decided to stop using the VieVu L3 body cameras its officers had been equipped with since last March because the cameras began to physically fail.

At the same time, the Phoenix Police Department announced that it had canceled its contract with VieVu body cameras, opting to put out a new request for proposal to obtain cameras with newer-generation technologies.

Meanwhile, the head of the Miami-Dade police union raised concerns in a Jan. 13 letter to department brass about the reliability and accuracy of the VieVu cameras based on criticism that they drop video frames.

The letter warned that the camera's flaws could potentially affect criminal prosecutions if the footage is used as evidence. 

"We wanted to put on the record that we have some grave concerns," John Rivera, the president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, told DNAinfo.

"These cameras are faulty."

In September, Seattle-based startup VieVu won a $6.4 million contract to equip NYPD's officers with its body cameras. Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that as part of the latest labor deal with the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, all patrol officers under the rank of sergeant will wear the cameras by the end of 2019.

But the NYPD has gotten backlash over its choice of VieVu, with critics pointing to a study by the Cincinnati Police Department that found VieVu's LE4 body camera to have problems with its field of vision, battery life and uploading of video.

Taser International — which had also competed for the contract — wrote a formal protest letter to Commissioner James O'Neill about the choice of VieVu and began a lobbying campaign against its rival, according to Politico New York.

Several city councilmembers and Public Advocate Letitia James also recently wrote a letter to de Blasio and O'Neill criticizing the lack of transparency of the selection process and questioning the field tests of body cameras.City Comptroller Scott Stringer's office is currently reviewing the contract and is expected to make a decision soon.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Rivera said he doesn't care which manufacturer makes the body cameras for his members in Miami Dade — he just wants them to work correctly.

Rivera shared a Jan. 23 response letter he received from Juan Perez, the director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, in which he says that VieVu representatives acknowledged that their cameras dropped 5.4 frames per minute.

However, Perez wrote that the representatives said that the dropped frames were not visible to the naked eye, that the problem would be resolved and that the department's system was not compromised.

Rivera said that, in policing situations, split-seconds matter.

"What happens if [the camera] drops the depiction at the exact moment something happens?" Rivera said.

He added that the camera's flaw of dropping frames could have implications on the Brady Rule, which requires prosecutors to provide defendants with materially exculpatory evidence — information they can use in their defense.

Joe Clure, a retired Phoenix police officer and the chairman of the law enforcement committee for the Maricopa County chapter of the NAACP, said that the dropped frames make evidence unreliable and will lead to accusations that officers doctored footage. 

"If it happens during the most critical fraction of a second during the incident, it's going to create problems for the prosecutors," he said.

"It will also create a huge issue of trust between the police and community."

Clure, who said he doesn't work for Taser or have any vested interest in VieVu's competitor, was the one who alerted Rivera to VieVu's body camera problems.

Clure, the former head of the Phoenix police officers union, said he got to know Rivera through national conferences and saw that the Miami-Dade Police Department inked a contract last spring for VieVu to provide 1,500 body cameras. 

Clure also sent a letter about his concerns to Phoenix Police Department Chief Jeri Williams. Williams, who was appointed the city's police chief in October, announced on Jan. 19 that she pulled the VieVu contract in order to purchase more updated cameras for her officers, according to KTAR News. 

The Chillicothe Gazette reported that its city's police department stopped using the VieVu L3 cameras for two main reasons — the internal recording failed to work and the USB connections would get stuck in the cameras. 

"At one time, we had seven cameras down out of 15," Chillicothe Police Chief Keith Washburn said. "That system we got wasn't what we thought it would be."

A spokesman for VieVu declined to comment for this story on Friday.

However, on Monday evening, VieVu spokesman John Collins that the Chillicothe Police Department purchased its equipment from a third-party vendor that installed its own software on the devices.

The installation of the software, he said, voided VieVu's warranty. 

"Both the Phoenix and Miami-Dade police departments conducted extensive and competitive request-for-proposal processes in which the final scorings — on public record — show that VIEVU products ranked the highest and were rated as superior to others in the market, including those made by Taser," Collins said. "We are proud to stand by our best-in-class products, which are used by thousands of law enforcement agencies globally.”