NEW YORK CITY — The NYPD opposes court-ordered plans to equip its patrol cops with video cameras, but a study shows that it’s a policy worth greenlighting.
The Manhattan federal judge who rebuked the NYPD’s use of stop and frisks in a landmark ruling Monday has instructed the department to implement a pilot program in which officers wear cameras on their body.
While Mayor Bloomberg called Judge Shira Scheindlin’s idea “a nightmare,” she wrote in her decision that the cameras would benefit cops and civilians by providing an objective take during stops. As proof, she cited the success of a similar program in Rialto, Calif.
For the past year, as part of a study, the tiny town’s police department equipped its officers with small cameras that recorded their interactions with civilians. Each day half of the department’s 54 patrol officers wore the cameras while the other half didn’t.
Rialto’s police chief, William Farrar, partnered with Dr. Barak Ariel, a professor at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, to see if the cameras cut down on the use of force by police.
“We found interesting things,” Ariel told DNAinfo.com New York. “The theory behind the camera is that they serve as a deterrent effect on both parties — on the officer and the member of the public. It’s meant to cool down volatile situations.”
The study found that the department received only three civilian complaints during the program’s implementation, down from 24 during the same time a year earlier. The study also showed that cops who wore the cameras had eight incidents involving the use of force, while cops not wearing the devices had 17.
The cameras also saved the department cash, Ariel said.
Each camera costs about $1,200. Ariel said the high price is offset by the department spending less time and money on litigating complaints. He estimates that for every $1 spent on a camera, the department saved about $4.
Rialto has a population of 100,000 and spans about 28.5 square miles. Ariel said its police force is only the size of a single NYPD precinct. Still, he believes the pilot program will work in New York City.
“If it works, implement it,” said Ariel, who is starting similar programs with the police department in the island country of Trinidad and Tobago and with Israel’s transit police. “We shouldn’t be so apprehensive about the cameras. I believe in testing things.”
Under Scheindlin’s program, the NYPD precinct in each borough with the highest number of stop and frisks must have its patrol cops wear the devices for a year. Then a court-appointed monitor, the NYPD and civil rights advocates would evaluate the benefits and the costs.
“The recordings may either confirm or refute the belief of some minorities that they have been stopped simply as a result of their race, or based on the clothes they wore, such as baggy pants or a hoodie,” Scheindlin wrote.
The cameras would also vindicate cops who are wrongfully accused of bad behavior, she said.
The judge’s take didn’t sway Mayor Bloomberg.
"It would be a nightmare,” he said at a press conference Monday, denouncing Scheindlin’s ruling. “A camera on a [cop’s] lapel — he turned the right way, he didn’t turn the right way — it’s not a solution to the problem."
An NYPD officer who works in the 40th Precinct in Mott Haven told DNAinfo New York on Monday that she welcomed the cameras, believing they would back up police accounts. But she didn’t think the number of civilian complaints would drop in the precinct, which had the most stop and frisks in the Bronx in 2012.
“I think they’re still going to argue. They argue because they can,” the officer said.
Civilians supported the cameras, too.
J. Gomez, a lifelong resident of East Harlem, said she was in favor of police wearing cameras.
"I think the cameras would make a difference because people could see exactly what police are doing and why," said Gomez while standing near the 23rd Precinct, which stopped the highest number of people in Manhattan in 2012.
"I don't have good feelings about stop and frisk. Sometimes they stop people who aren't doing anything," she added.
Additional reporting by Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, Paul DeBenedetto and Nicholas Rizzi