Contract for NYPD Body Cameras Provokes Protest in the City Council

The police department's decision to contract with VieVu rankled leaders of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

A body camera in use in a Utah town.
A body camera in use in a Utah town.

The NYPD’s plan to purchase its first wave of police body cameras from the company VieVu has aroused the ire of leaders in the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, who point to technical problems with the manufacturer’s products in Oakland and Cincinnati.

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Brooklyn Councilman Robert Cornegy, co-chair of the BLAC, reached out to the Observer shortly after word surfaced in the Daily News that VieVu had won the bidding process for the recording devices. He alluded to an incident reported in Oakland last month, in which a police sergeant testified in a murder trial that his department’s VieVu system lost a quarter of all body cam footage during a 2014 software upgrade.

“I can’t imagine how disastrous it would be to lose that much footage in a critical case,” Cornegy said in a phone interview, noting the contentious atmosphere around policing in the five boroughs since Officer Daniel Pantaleo killed black Staten Islander Eric Garner in 2014. “There’s too much at stake.  What we have to show as a city is a commitment to do better. This vendor doesn’t appear to be the absolute best.”

The San Francisco Chronicle did note that the Oakland department had failed to set up a back-up system. But the Cincinnati police department, which considered contracting with VieVu for body cameras, reported that the company’s software crashed frequently during a test run and that videos from its devices were difficult to upload and varied in quality.

Cornegy said he intended to assemble his caucus and compose a joint letter of complaint this week. His BLAC co-chair, Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres, echoed his concerns.

“Given the public interest in the body camera program, the performance of the selected vendor deserves the greatest scrutiny,” he said. “New Yorkers have the right to expect nothing less than the best in body camera technology. It’s better to get it right than to do it hastily.”

Neither Cornegy nor Torres appear to have raised any campaign money at any time from any employee of the Taser corporation—regarded as VieVu’s top rival for the NYPD contract.

The NYPD informed reporters at an unrelated press conference this afternoon that it had been “in touch” with Oakland and other cities that had worked with VieVu, and emphasized that the contract was only for a pilot program.

“We would not move forward if we were uncomfortable that the VieVu cameras were going to provide good coverage and we were going to store the video in a responsible way,” said Jessica Tisch, the deputy commissioner of information technology.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, also present at the presser at NYPD headquarters, promised 1,000 body cameras on the street by the end of next year and up to 5,000 in 2018.

“We’ve been very very clear about the complications  and the challenges that come with doing it in the biggest city in the country with the biggest police force by far in the country, so we’re going to be purposeful about getting it right,” he pledged.

VieVu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Contract for NYPD Body Cameras Provokes Protest in the City Council