A New York police union does not want citizens to be able to see the body camera footage recorded at the expense of their tax money.
New York City’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, sued the department Tuesday, saying its release of body camera footage without a court order violates a state law that makes officer disciplinary records confidential, reported The NY Times.
The police department has only released footage from 3 shootings, 2 of which were fatal, but the union president, Patrick J. Lynch, said in a statement that the releases were arbitrary and illegal.
“This footage has serious implications not only for the safety and due process rights of police officers, but for the privacy and rights of members of the public, as well,” he said. He accused Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Police Department of showing “reckless disregard” for those concerns and for state law.
The union, which represents about 24,000 uniformed officers, also claims the public release of footage violates the privacy of everyday citizens caught on camera.
“This conduct disregards not only the clear prohibitions, but also the very serious safety, privacy, due process, and other interests” of everyone seen in such videos, said the lawsuit.
“The mayor and the police commissioner have spoken to the need for increasing transparency into the way our city is policed. The release of body camera footage, when possible, is an important extension of that commitment,” said Austin Finan, a spokesman for the mayor.
Robert J. Freeman, the executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said the lawsuit is just another attempt to protect officers from actual accountability.
“You have this myth that the disclosure of information relating to the performance of the duties of a public employee in some way relates to that person’s personal privacy,” he said. “Not so. Not so. The record that indicates my salary is about me, but it’s not personal. It’s about me as a public employee.”
In its lawsuit, the union cited New York Civil Rights Law 50-a, which bars the public release of all police “personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion,” unless a judge has signed off on the disclosure. Freeman has suggested 50-a should be either amended or repealed.
Richard M. Aborn, the president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, a criminal justice policy nonprofit, said that whether the statute applies to body camera video may depend on whether the Police Department plans to use it to evaluate officers’ performances or make disciplinary decisions.
“What is crystal clear is the right of the public to see these videos and hear reports from the government about what happened in these shootings is paramount, and the courts have got to find a way to expeditiously resolve any dispute and allow the dissemination of this information,” he said. “So to me, this is about speed.”