NYPD Agrees To Give CCRB More Access To Body Camera Video, But Not In The Most ‘Sensitive’ Cases
The agreement comes after months of intense negotiations between the police department and the Civilian Complaint Review Board, also known as the CCRB, the city’s only independent body that investigates police misconduct.
The agency has jurisdiction over complaints from the public that involve abuse of authority, discourtesy, excessive force or offensive language and, since voters approved a charter revision earlier this month, allegations of police lying.
In a nine-page memorandum of understanding, the NYPD and CCRB agreed to create a “secure room” where an NYPD employee will search for videos requested by investigators in the presence of a CCRB employee who will observe and collaborate to find relevant videos.
Investigators will then be allowed to view the unedited footage inside the room and specify the portions needed to complete their misconduct investigation. The final release of the video that can be viewed outside the secure room may be redacted to protect people’s privacy. The secure room is expected to be up and running early next year but the CCRB must still secure funding for it.
It is a tedious process that is supposed to give the CCRB more control and speed up access so that videos are obtained within 10 to 25 business days and reduce an existing backlog of requests. Police misconduct cases have an 18-month-statute of limitations.
“I think it was a real compromise,” said Jonathan Darche, Executive Director of the Civilian Complaint Review Board. “It gives the CCRB assurances that we’re receiving all of the video relevant to the case under investigation. It takes the NYPD’s security concerns into account and it’s going to assure civilians and members of service alike that their privacy rights are not going to be violated.”
Until now, CCRB investigators were forced to request footage and wait in line for it along with the general public seeking videos through the lengthy Freedom of Information Law process.
In June the CCRB sounded the alarm that more than a third of police misconduct investigations were awaiting video evidence. And then again in July, a board official wrote a memo complaining that a “concerning number of BWC (body-worn-camera) requests remained unfulfilled.” As of the end of October there were 574 unfulfilled requests for footage and 57 percent were more than 30 days old.
That’s not the only problem. The CCRB has also complained that on 147 different occasions, investigators were told a video did not exist only to find out later that it did. Having a CCRB employee collaborate on searches is supposed to alleviate that problem.
The agreement is seen as a compromise because it falls short of direct, unfettered access, which is what civilian oversight bodies in Washington DC, San Francisco and New Orleans are given. In New Orleans, the civilian oversight body is also able to audit the body camera program to make sure officers are actually turning their cameras on and keeping them on. The NYPD says checks on officers are conducted internally at the precinct level and beyond.
One aspect of the agreement is sure to be controversial. It allows body-camera-footage in the most serious cases — when police shoot and kill or seriously injure a civilian — to be on “lock down.” That means CCRB investigators won’t be able to access video until the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division completes its work. The NYPD will also be allowed to withhold videos in “other sensitive force investigations not being conducted by FID.”
The agreement also bars CCRB investigators from looking into misconduct they stumble upon while viewing videos if the misconduct is not part of the allegations they are investigating. Instead, they must refer the misconduct to the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
According to the city charter, the CCRB may only investigate cases of police misconduct that are brought to them by members of the public who are victims of or witnessed the event. They are not allowed to investigate something seen on a video unless someone has filed a formal complaint about it.
Even though the city’s body-worn-camera program is fairly new—the first large rollout of cameras was in 2017—the database that holds videos is vast. According to the NYPD, 8 million videos exist today and 130,000 more get added each week. Typically the videos get erased after 18 months.
The videos are seen as crucial to investigations. According to the CCRB in May, 42 percent of cases with video evidence were substantiated compared to 7 percent where there was no video.
“Body-worn-camera footage is going to revolutionize civilian oversight of law enforcement,” Darche said. “I think this agreement is going to put the CCRB as a leader in using body-worn-camera footage to conduct civilian oversight of law enforcement.”
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.