The New York City Police Department will begin equipping a small number of its officers with wearable video cameras, a pilot program geared toward eventually outfitting the nation’s largest police force with technology that promises greater accountability over police actions.
An announcement on the program, as well as details of the initial implementation of the cameras, is expected from Commissioner William J. Bratton on Thursday, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the planning.
In a far-reaching court decision that reined in the department’s stop-and-frisk practices, a federal judge last year ordered the department to test the cameras for one year in five police precincts as a way of evaluating their effectiveness in curbing unconstitutional stops by officers. The court ordered an independent monitor to help set the policy for the cameras, though that order has been delayedpending a second-circuit appeal.
The department’s introduction of the cameras was not done in consultation with the court or the monitor, the official said. The announcement also comes in advance of federal guidelines on body cameras worn by the police, to be released by the Justice Department in the coming weeks.
The cameras, which attach to the uniforms officers wear on patrol, can offer visual evidence in he-said-she-said encounters between the police and the public. Calls for all officers to wear them have grown after the fatal shooting by a white officer of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last month.
Darius Charney, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the stop-and-frisk case, criticized the department’s plans to move ahead on the cameras unilaterally.
“This kind of unilateral decision on the part of the N.Y.P.D. is part of the same uncollaborative, nontransparent, go-it-alone approach to police reform we saw with the prior N.Y.P.D. and mayoral administration,” Mr. Charney said in an email Thursday.
Thousands of small- and medium-sized police departments have been using the cameras for the past few years, and many big city police forces have begun tests or have plans to do so, from Los Angeles to Washington.
But the participation of the New York Police Department, with its 35,000 uniformed members and vast footprint on the country’s policing policy, could permanently shift the balance in favor of the cameras, which both civil libertarians and many police chiefs have celebrated as a way to improve relations between citizens and the police, particularly inheavily policed minority communities.
In New York’s test, it is not a question of whether the city’s officers will wear video cameras in the future, but how best to have them do so, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the pilot program before Thursday’s announcement.
The previous administration strenuously objected to the use of body cameras by officers, with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg calling them a “nightmare.”
But Commissioner Bratton, who took the helm of the department this year in the aftermath of that clash, has saidhe welcomed the new technology, and would evaluate strategies for their use based on the pilot. New York City police officials went to Los Angeles earlier this year to look at the use of the cameras there.
So far, departments around the country have been largely on their own in drafting policies over basic questions, like whenthe cameras should be turned on. Many departments allow the cameras to be employed at the discretion of the officer. Other issues include how the data is stored and who is granted access; concerns among rank-and-file officers that supervisors with a grudge will comb through hours of video to find a violation have prompted some departments to set rules about the reasons they can be reviewed.
“We are reserving our decision on body cameras until we see some real evidence of their effectiveness and impact on the officers who carry them,” Patrick J. Lynch, the head of the union representing New York City’s patrol officers, said last month, after the city’s public advocate called for their use.