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Uptown Officers Help Launch the NYPD's Body-Worn Cameras Program

 Over 50 officers from the 34th precinct wore the new body-worn cameras Thursday night, officials said.
Over 50 officers from the 34th precinct wore the new body-worn cameras Thursday night, officials said.
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DNAinfo/Carolina Pichardo

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Nearly 50 officers from the NYPD's 34th Precinct started their evening shift Thursday night with an extra set of eyes, as part of the first rollout of the controversial body-worn cameras began in an effort to bring “transparency and accountability” to the department, officials said.

The officers, who worked the 4 p.m. - midnight shift, kept the small, square cameras clipped to the front of their uniform shirts, near the center of their chest. They were instructed to turn them any time they are required to use force, arrest anyone, issue summonses, or come into contact with anyone they suspect of criminality or respond to a 911 call of a crime in progress.

They are also required to record any time they are in contact with emotionally disturbed people, officials said.

The rollout will continue throughout the end of the year, eventually outfitting 1,000 officers with body-worn cameras by the end of 2017 and 22,000 officers by the end of 2019, the NYPD said. The initiative follows Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin's 2013 ruling that the NYPD must incorporate body cameras after finding they had improperly used stop-and-frisk to target minorities.

READ MORE: Judge's Plan to Fit Cops With Cameras Worked in California, Study Found

“This is the first day of the era of body-worn cameras, and that means we are going on a pathway of transparency and accountability that will benefit everyone,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the pilot program was “more extensive than was required by the court” and that “as a department we’ve been eager to move forward” with the program.

“We did not take this task lightly. We sought and received a lot of community feedback throughout the whole process,” O’Neill said, adding that having been an officer, he wasn’t entirely convinced that wearing a camera was something he would’ve have wanted to do, but after doing research he’s “totally convinced now that this is the way forward.”

O’Neill said the NYPD will tell residents they’re being recorded and suggested that everyone be on their best behavior. “It’s going to go a long way to building trust and great way forward,” O’Neill added.

The cameras — manufactured by VieVu, whose cameras have been criticized for their operation — will show what the human eye will see and are not high-definition cameras, which means at night when the video is darker it does not lighten up the area, officials said. The Vievu cameras are slightly different and a more recent version than was piloted two years ago.

►READ MORE: NYPD's Body Camera Manufacturer Called 'Faulty' by Other Police Departments

Officers will be required to have the cameras – which have been on when making arrests, routine stops, issuing summonses, searches and during all their interactions with people they suspect of criminal behavior.

“This is something new for police officers, so we have to give them the opportunity to learn how to do this, but there will be a point — in time and in the future — when they follow policies and procedures there will be consequences,“ O’Neill said.

The cameras have a 12-plus hour battery life and all video footage will live for the minimum of a year in a “government cloud” within the NYPD’s secure network, officials said. Videos of police-involved shootings or other use of force incidents will be preserved longer. Officers involved in police shootings will be allowed to see the footage before writing up their police report, officials said, but emphasized that the technology will not allow them to edit or review the footage.

Officials added that the footage will be subject to Freedom of Information laws, which means the public can request a copy, but the department will review whether releasing police use of force videos would hamper an investigation or future trial before deciding whether to release them.

De Blasio said the city doesn’t have all the answers today when it comes on how to handle exactly when officers record footage, adding that officers will be turning the cameras off and on over the course of their work day. He said that more will be determined after seeing what happens with each encounter and they reserve the right to make adjustments to the policy as they move along

O’Neill said the 34th Precinct offers a good fantastic snapshot of what it’s like to be a police officer in the city, with calls for service running “from the relatively mundane to the most serious.”

The 34th Precinct last month informed the community during a precinct council meeting that they would be the first to try out the program for the NYPD.