Make it public: Williams presses for release of NYPD body cam footage

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called for passage of legislation that would mandate the NYPD to speedily release police officers’ bodycam footage to the public. (File photo)

Charging that “the need for greater transparency is evident now more than ever,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee Monday that they should pass a bill mandating the public release of NYPD body camera footage. 

The committee is reviewing a bill titled Intro. 1136-2018, which would not only require the NYPD to submit quarterly reports on the use of body cameras by its officers, but also mandate the annual publication of each instance in which body cams are activated — specifically, police-involved shootings or other situations of conflict between police and civilians.

“There has not been a discussion on how to make those videos made available to the public,” Williams said. He said unedited police footage should be released both to the public and to family members of those involved in police confrontations.

One example was a late September incident in the Bronx that resulted in the death of Police Officer Brian Mulkeen and a suspect, Antonio Williams, at a public housing complex. Williams pointed out that five involved officers had active body cameras, but none of that captured video has been released at this time— though police pledged to do so “imminently” during the hearing.

“Accountability and transparency are at the heart of Intro 1136-2018,” Williams said.

As far as the total amount of NYPD collected body cam footage goes, police estimate having nearly 8 million total body cam videos, many of which are over eight minutes in length. Roughly 130,000 of these videos are uploaded to an police cloud each week, and a number of those clips are sent the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) as well, according to the NYPD.

“They’re probably our largest customer by far,” NYPD Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Oleg Chernyavsky testified with regard to videos shared with the CCRB.

As far as expanding interagency video sharing, Williams also recommended that the department begin sharing footage with the CCRB and district attorneys in a 24-hour timeframe, while also reducing the amount of time used to “disseminate footage to the public.”

But Chernyavsky said the logistics of such an operation might be difficult for the NYPD. He claimed the department would need to hire about 800 investigators, each at an estimated $70,000 annual salary, just to watch the 130,000 weekly uploads.

Chernyavsky saying that the NYPD is also obligated to “adequately assess legal and privacy concerns” before releasing body camera footage.

“This department should not be placed in a position where we are left questioning the CCRB about the evidence they determine is relevant in connection with their investigations,” Chernyavsky said, noting that the NYPD does not support the specific bill at hand.

Even so, “we’re not opposed to reporting on body camera footage,” Chernyavsky added, commenting that the NYPD is willing to work with Williams and others on shaping new transparency policies.

The committee has yet to schedule a vote on the bill under consideration.