Following the choking death of New York City resident Eric Garner there has been renewed debate about NYPD policies regarding use of force and abuse of power, but NYC Public Advocate Letitia James doesn’t think that goes far enough, especially since putting people in chokeholds was officially barred years ago. She wants NYPD officers to be outfitted with cameras so that interactions with the public can be viewed objectively.
“We are living in an increasingly technological world, and we should take measures to incorporate video cameras into policing to improve public safety,” said James, the Associated Press reports.
Chokehold complaints have risen despite ban
According to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) chokehold complaints went up 40% from 2012 to 2013 even with the chokehold ban in place, says James’s report, but only five percent of those claims were substantiated because most incidents boil down to a he said/she said case of dueling testimonies. Between 2009 and 2013 the CCRB received 1,022 complaints about illegal chokeholds.
Asking police officers to wear cameras would clear up the vast majority of those cases, which both defends civilians from abuse of power and protects the reputation of police officers being falsely accused of misconduct. Turning the classic surveillance state argument on its head, if the police have nothing to hide, they should mind letting people see what they’re up to. Even current NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton came out in support of having officers wear cameras in 2013 to provide an objective perspective on their interactions with the public, so James an hardly be called anti-police.
Wearable cameras could save the NYPD millions every year
While increased transparency and accountability are the main goals of James’s proposal, she also argues that it would save the NYPD money. Equipping 15% of New York City’s police force (focusing on the districts with the highest levels of crime and complaints) would cost less than $5 million, assuming the cameras cost between $450 and $900 each, compared to $152 million paid out last year because of police misconduct claims. If you figure that he cameras will let the police throw out all of the spurious claims and will act as a check on the officers who are prone to using too much force, the program could just be a great investment.
That could explain why, according to the ACLU, “one in every six departments are patrolling with them [cameras] on their chests, lapels or sunglasses.”