They are supposed to be a deterrent for misconduct, yet some New York Police Department officers are sending verbal and non-verbal signals to each other when their body cameras are tuned on, one watchdog agency found.
The New York City's Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) found in a report that while investigating allegations of misconduct by the city's police department, that one of their biggest issues were cases where Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) are involved.
During its investigation, CCRB claims that NYPD officers in videos it reviewed used phrases like "I went Hollywood," "Green," "We're live," and "I'm hot" to warn fellow officers that their BWCs were on and recording.
"Officers also used non-verbal cues, such as tapping motions, shoulder brushing, and gesturing to indicate whether their cameras were turned on or off," the CCRB said in its investigation report released Thursday, that focused on the impact of police body-worn cameras from May 2017 to June 2019.
BWCs were introduced to the NYPD -- the largest police departments in the country -- in 2014 after a federal judge determined that the stop-question-and-frisk policy implemented by the agency was unconstitutional and violated the rights of people of color in New York City.
By August 2019, 24,000 of the over 36,000 NYPD officers, including those in specialized units like the Emergency Service Unit, were equipped with BWCs and over 3.5 million videos have been recorded, according to the NYPD.
These recordings help CCRB investigators with the thousands of complaints they receive annually, but with officers signaling to each other about the presence of a BWC, it "undermines the purpose of the BWC program, which is meant to, 'provide a contemporaneous, objective record of stops and frisks, allowing for the review of officer conduct,'" the report shows.
From 2017 to June 2019 2,033 complaints where BWC footage was received, only 318 were fully investigated and ended with a conclusion. The CCRB reached a clear determination of fact in 76% of all cases, compared to 39% when no video was available, the agency reported.
In response to the signaling accusations, an NYPD spokeswoman said the CCRB has "mischaracterized" the Patrol Guide's guidelines which says "to notify members of the public as soon as reasonably practical that a BWC is recording."
The spokeswoman also said that the notifications are also a form of de-escalation.
The CCRB and NYPD entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in November 2019 which included a request to amend the NYPD's Patrol Guide and create a policy prohibiting body camera interference tactics. Although NYPD said "changing the patrol guide is...not necessary and "the use of shorthand or jargon among officers is commonplace and not inappropriate."
Approximately 20 other cities including Minneapolis, Atlanta and Baltimore have policies prohibiting officers from interfering with BWC recordings, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, a public interest and legal advocacy organization.
The Brennan Center for Justice created a resource for suggested language for BWC policies.
"Appropriate disciplinary action shall be taken against any enforcement member who is found to have intentionally failed to adhere to the recording or retention requirements contained in this policy, or to have intentionally interfered with a BWC’s ability to accurately capture video footage," according to a policy established in Parker, Colorado.