What to Know
- A New York appeals court has ruled that police body camera footage is subject to public disclosure under state law
- An Appellate Division panel said Tuesday that the footage doesn't constitute a personnel record
- New York Police Department Police Commissioner James O'Neill called the ruling important for transparency
A New York appeals court has ruled that police body camera footage is subject to public disclosure under state law.
An Appellate Division panel said Tuesday that the footage doesn't constitute a personnel record and therefore isn't covered by a state law that keeps such records secret.
"The purpose of body-worn-camera footage is for use in the service of other key objectives of the program, such as transparency, accountability, and public trust-building," documents in the ruling said.
Body camera video "is more akin to arrest or stop reports, and not records primarily generated for disciplinary and promotional purposes," the court further said. "To hold otherwise would defeat the purpose of the body-worn-camera program to promote increased transparency and public accountability."
New York Police Department Police Commissioner James O'Neill called the ruling important for transparency.
The New York Police Department and police reform advocates welcomed the decision. However, the city's largest police union, which sued to block the disclosure of footage, said the court's decision was "wrong" and that it was considering an appeal.
"This ruling is an important step forward for transparency and affirms what the NYPD believes," Police Commissioner James O'Neill said in a statement. "Not only is the public entitled to this information, but this footage overwhelmingly shows just how brave, skilled and dedicated our cops are every single day in service of the people of New York City."
The Associated Press, Buzzfeed, The New York Times Company and other media outlets had filed briefs arguing the footage is vital to transparency and police accountability.
The Legal Aid Society, a public defender group, said the ruling underscored the need for state lawmakers to repeal the law known as 50-A, which currently prevents the release of certain information about officers, such as discipline records.
The law "allows vague interpretation that is repeatedly exploited to serve certain agendas at the harm of our clients and other underserved New Yorkers," Legal Aid Society lawyer Tina Luongo said.
The officers' union, the Police Benevolent Association, had argued that making the videos public could lead to an invasion of privacy and threats to the safety of police officers. It also argued that the videos have a personnel function because superiors use them when evaluating officers for promotions.
The city's largest police union fought its release, citing privacy and safety concerns.
NBC 4 New York reached out to the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York via email seeking comment. In a statement, PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said: "We believe that the court’s decision is wrong, that it will have a negative impact on public safety and on the safety of our members. We are reviewing the decision and assessing our options for appeal.”
The NYPD released its first body camera footage of a fatal shooting in September 2017. The appeals court halted the release of footage in July while it considered the matter.