Mayor Bloomberg Loves Security Cameras Everywhere… Until His Police Are Ordered To Wear Them

Lawyers representing the city of New York have filed a request for a stay of Judge Scheindlin’s decision and court order pending appeal. Scheindlin found components of the NYPD’s stop and frisk unconstitutional in her decision and ordered several remedies, including the installation of independent oversight, changes to the UF250 (stop and frisk) form, an overhaul of the stop and frisk program itself and mandatory lapel cameras for police officers.

The six-page filing delivers pretty much the same talking points Bloomberg and Kelly have deployed since day one: stop and frisk lowers the crime rate, minorities will be hurt if it goes away, even the tiniest bit of disruption or oversight will throw 35,000 NYPD officers into complete disarray, etc.

The letter projects a certain confidence that Scheindlin has completely blown this decision. One would think projecting a little contrition would go over better, but experience has shown that Bloomberg (especially) and Kelly aren’t much for contrition.

First, defendants have a substantial likelihood of success on appeal. Defendants contend, inter alia, that: (l) the District Court erred in finding violations under the Fourth Amendment; (2) the District Court erred in finding violations in Floyd under the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) the District Court erred in finding any actionable widespread pattern or practice, deliberate indifference or causation under Monell v, Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S 658 (1978). Finally, the injunctive relief ordered in Floyd, is not narrowly tailored or clear enough to address found wrongs, particularly as it has no discernible end point or measure success.

So, that’s the opening salvo. From that point on, the arguments for the stay are based on the assumption that the city’s appeal will overturn the decision. A portion of the “irreparable harm” stems from the fact that the NYPD will be forced to train its officers not to violate constitutional rights and, if the decision is reversed, retrain them to go back to violating constitutional rights. It would seem that officers, especially long-term ones, would easily lapse back into the old ways, but that’s the argument.

[N]ot only will defendants be harmed by having to train on what they believe are errors of law, should defendants later prevail on the appeal, the officers will have to be retrained again, undoubtedly leading to severe and possibly irreparable disruption and confusion among the rank and file. Similar issues arise with regard to changes in monitoring, supervision, discipline and changing the UF250 form, as they are premised on the same errors of law.

Obviously, this is an insurmountable hurdle. With a bit more foresight, the city might realize that these issues with the stop and frisk program aren’t just going to go away, even if this decision is overturned. There’s something seriously wrong with the way the program is handled, and the NYPD is still going to be facing a lot of litigation in the forseeable future.

Whatever the expenses of retraining (and possibly “re-retraining” back to the old way), they should be easily outweighed by the department paying out fewer settlements to abused citizens. New York spent over $700 million on settlements in the last year alone, which covered suits claiming negligence, police abuse and property damage. It expects that total to rise to over $800 million per year by 2016. If following the orders results in only a 10% drop in settlements, that gives the city between $70-80 million to work with.

Keep that number in mind as we dig into a longer chunk of the city’s “irreparable damage” narrative.

[T]he public interest at stake in staying the Remedies Order is no less than the creation of an environment that may stem and reverse the long-standing record of crime reduction in this city, As that crime reduction has been most heavily felt in minority communities, it is those communities that will suffer the most.

Here we have the “minorities will be hurt” argument. More debunking of that one is available here. And to address those who will show up and claim (as Bloomberg himself has) that the NYPD’s targeting of minorities tracks with murders by racial makeup, here’s why that argument is wrong.

Minorities may commit 88.5% of the murders in New York and stop and frisk, over the past decade, has stopped minorities 88% of the time. That may seem like it’s tracking almost perfectly. But stop and frisk doesn’t utilize probable cause or reasonable suspicion and does not target only suspected murders. To use this logic to claim minorities are not being unfairly targeted is to claim “88% of murderers” and “88% of the general public” is the same number. It isn’t. Stop and frisk targets anybody, but especially “anybodies” who aren’t Caucasian, plain and simple. To believe that curbing stop and frisk will “hurt minorities” is to believe that 88% of all minority New Yorkers are murderers.

Finally, the cost to the taxpayers to implement the open-ended and broad-sweeping Remedies Order is against the public interest when the liability foundation for the reforms has not been tested, when body cameras (and their concomitant logistics, like storage, retrieval, etc.) have never been used on as a large a scale as contemplated by the Remedies Order, and when no end date or monetary limit of any kind has been established for the Monitor – and the personnel he is permitted to hire, including experts. Moreover, should the City ultimately prevail on appeal, those scarce public funds will have been expended to no purpose.

Here’s where the $700-800 million a year in settlements comes back into play. The cost associated with the Monitor and related personnel is likely minimal as compared to damages paid. But the argument about costs related to cameras is treated like it’s an unknowable (but presumably incredibly large) expense.

First of all, the cameras are not being deployed on as large a scale as the filing makes it sound. Scheindlin’s orders specify a rather narrow range of officers:

I am ordering the NYPD to institute a pilot project in which bodyworn cameras will be worn for a one-year period by officers on patrol in one precinct per borough — specifically the precinct with the highest number of stops during 2012.

This means five to seven (Brooklyn and Queens are split into North and South divisions) total precincts will use cameras. There are 34,500 uniformed officers in the NYPD at last count. Using even the friendliest math (five boroughs) brings us to 6,900 officers per borough. There are 77 precincts in New York City, which gives us roughly 90 450 officers per precinct. We’ll round up because we can likely assume precincts with the most stops also contain the most officers. We’ll give these precincts a generous 120 500 officers. 120 500 officers, 5 boroughs = ~600 ~2,500 officers needing cameras.

A Wall Street Journal article on the subject of police cameras quotes Fort Worth, Texas’ investment as $85,000 for 50 cameras and storage, or $1,700 per camera. If we assume every officer gets one and no one shares, we end up with a total investment of $1,020,000 4,250,000*. Compare that to $700-800 million in settlements, or the estimated $70-80 million saved by a 10% reduction in litigation due to officer body cams. That’s not a prohibitive expense, especially when other departments utilizing these cameras have seen dramatic dropoffs in both excessive force incidents and citizen complaints.

*[Math: how the f**k does it work? Thanks to Jake and John Fenderson for correcting my mangled math in the comment thread below.]

But all of the city’s lousy arguments pale in comparison to this statement, which is breathtakingly audacious considering the on-record statements of both Bloomberg and Chief Kelly.

Finally, implementing a body camera pilot project itself poses significant harm in terms of time, resources and possible impingement on privacy rights of the public.

The “privacy rights of the public?” The city is suddenly concerned about that? From what I can tell, this is a newfound concern that emerged only after Judge Schiendlin ordered cameras to be worn by officers. At no point in the past have either Bloomberg or Kelly ever expressed any concern about the public’s privacy.

Here’s Chief Kelly, shortly after the Boston Bombing.

“I’m a major proponent of cameras,” Kelly said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I think the privacy issue has really been taken off the table.”

“The people who complain about it, I would say, are a relatively small number of folks, because the genie is out of the bottle,” Kelly said. “People realize that everywhere you go now, your picture is taken.”

Oh, I see. Privacy is “taken off the table” for citizens if the camera is anywhere else but on the lapel of a cop’s uniform. “Everywhere” only means places cops aren’t wearing cameras. Now, suddenly, there’s a privacy concern because, and only because, a cop might find himself creating some damning footage. Screw Kelly. If privacy’s “off the table,” it’s off the table for EVERYONE.

In 2010, the NYPD had only 500 cameras up-and-running. In its quest to turn New York into the next “Ring of Steel,” the department upped that to nearly 3,000 cameras by the end of 2011. Kelly loves cameras. But not on his guys.

Bloomberg is the same. Here’s his post-Boston Bombing pull quote.

The Boston bombing is a terrible reminder of why we’ve made these investments—including camera technology that could help us deter an attack, or investigate and apprehend those involved,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this past week. He added the network now has the ability to “alert police to abnormalities it detects on the street, such as an abandoned package that is left on a corner.”

Bloomberg will throw money at cameras, privacy be damned. But he’s suddenly worried about privacy and costs if any of the cameras are to be worn by police.

And let’s not forget that back in 2007, Bloomberg was so “concerned” about New Yorkers’ privacy that he proposed a city wide program to allow citizens to shoot video and photos of perceived criminal acts and immediately upload them to the police department.

If nothing else, I would hope that this request for a stay pending appeal would be greeted with invitations for Bloomberg and Kelly to eat their words on the public’s privacy. This is the nastiest, most self-serving hypocrisy the city’s dished out yet — a faux “concern” entirely based on protecting its own.

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