New York is taking its first step toward outfitting its 34,500 uniformed police officers with body cameras in an experimental program to be announced Wednesday by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
The largest U.S. police department will begin testing devices this week that digitally record street encounters between officers and civilians. The video will provide reviewable evidence when an officer’s conduct is questioned, Bratton said.
Studies conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum and the Police Foundation, two nonprofits devoted to analyzing crime-fighting strategies, found that body cameras reduced civilian complaints and officers’ use of force. Bratton said Tuesday that the test cameras will be up and running in some target precincts by this weekend.
“Body cameras are one of the ways to create a real sense of transparency and accountability, one of the ways we can bring police and community closer together,” de Blasio said Tuesday at a Brooklyn news briefing.
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The use of body cameras has gained currency among law- enforcement professionals and elected officials who have turned their attention to the risks of poor relations between police and minority communities. Questions about how to monitor police conduct sharpened after the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown, the black Ferguson, Missouri, teenager shot to death after a routine stop escalated into violence, igniting civil unrest across the U.S.
More demonstrations erupted last week after a grand jury recommended no criminal charges be brought against the white officer who killed him.
President Barack Obama endorsed the camera idea Dec. 1, when he emerged from a meeting of mayors, civil-rights leaders and police chiefs to call for $75 million to help local law- enforcement agencies purchase about 50,000 devices. De Blasio attended the meeting.
At the news briefing Tuesday, the mayor announced the city’s crime rate fell more than 4 percent this year and that homicides were at a record low of 290 as of Nov. 30, compared with 311 for the first 11 months of 2013.
De Blasio said the cameras represent one of several tactics to reduce hostile relations between police and minority residents, including fewer stop-and-frisk street encounters and arrests for marijuana possession as well as training on how to avoid force.
The department’s officers are prepared for unrest as early as this weekend, Bratton said, when he expects demonstrations in the aftermath of a grand-jury decision on whether to issue criminal charges for the July 17 homicide of Eric Garner, 43, a Staten Island man who died after an officer subdued him with a chokehold.
Crowds will also gather at a Brooklyn funeral Dec. 5 to hear the Reverend Al Sharpton eulogize Akai Gurley, 28, shot to death Nov. 20 by an officer in an unlit public-housing stairwell, in what Bratton described as an apparent accident.