The NYPD might find its work even more in the public eye if a new bill by two Democratic legislators becomes law.
The proposal by Manhattan Assemblyman Dan Quart and Brooklyn State Senator Daniel Squadron will make recordings from the city’s expanding police body camera program open to Freedom of Information Law requests. Current state laws unique to New York seal all documents related to police conduct as private personnel information, meaning body camera footage would only be available to attorneys representing an officer or civilian in court and their client.
“No other state offers this kind of extraordinary privacy for records of public servants,” said Mr. Quart. “As the NYPD expands its body camera program, it is vital that the footage from these cameras is not similarly protected.”
Mr. Quart cited a number of high profile recent cases of potential police misconduct caught on camera, including the Texas traffic stop of Sandra Bland, an African-American woman in Illinois, which escalated into a physical confrontation and concluded with Bland’s apparent suicide in a jail cell days later. The assemblyman argued that dashcam footage of Bland’s arrest, which is available to the public under Texas state law, was crucial to prompting an investigation.
“We can only hope we can achieve the same level of transparency in New York that there is in the state of Texas,” he said. “Citizens have a right to know what the police force is doing in their name.”
Privacy provisions in the bill, however, would disguise the faces, voices and other identifying features of civilians in the video unless they or an executor sign a waiver allowing those to be visible. It would be difficult to obtain a recording of a particular incident involving a specific civilian based solely on that civilian’s name or description—instead, precise information about the time and location of the incident, or the criminal complaint report number associated with it would be necessary to FOIL the footage.
The city—or any other municipality in the state which decides to implement a body camera program—would have the power to withhold the footage if it pertains to an ongoing investigation. The law would not interfere with existing statutes covering legal discovery.
It is unclear how the proposal will fare in Mr. Squadron’s chamber, where pro-law and order Republicans hold the majority. Mr. Squadron himself seemed skeptical.
“This strikes me, in an issue that is obviously very heated, as a no-brainer,” he told the Observer, before lamenting the difficulties of being in a minority party. “Of course, I’m the ranking member of the codes committee, I see no-brainers that go nowhere every day in that committee.”