Body cameras can be a part of the solution but there’s a deeper problem, which is the way we prosecute charges related to civilian death. According to recent reports, there have been at least 179 cases of people being killed at the hands of on-duty NYPD officers in the last 15 years – 27 percent of whom were unarmed. Of those, only one was convicted of a crime, and even that officer didn’t serve jail time.
After a grand jury failed to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo while there was a camera aimed directly at the incident involving Eric Garner – one showing clearly that Garner was not threatening the officers – it becomes clear that video evidence isn’t going to cut it.
As was stated by Public Advocate Letitia James last week, district attorneys rely on police to prosecute cases, and asking them to prosecute cops for their infractions would be similar to someone indicting the coworkers they interact with every day.
What we need is for cops to be reviewed by people who are not cops, who don’t have a stake in the police department, and who have full access to all information necessary to make decisions about cop behavior.
Another issue becomes clear while watching Ramsey Orta’s video account of the NYPD slaying of Eric Garner: None of the officers involved that day would’ve produced quality video of the incident because they were all too close to the action.
If the NYPD is going to use cameras, they’re going to need to change the way they orient themselves so as to allow for visibility, or someone is going to have to be placed on observation duty, otherwise this plan will turn into a fruitless money pit.
So while we encourage the NYPD and city leadership to continue developing their plan, we only hope they won’t be too shortsighted in its implementation.