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Some NY cops to wear body cameras in pilot program

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Posted at 7:03 PM, Sep 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-07 19:03:49-04

Sixty New York City police officers will wear body cameras as part of a pilot program after a federal lawsuit challenging the department's controversial stop-and-frisk tactics and the recent chokehold death of Eric Garner during an arrest, city officials said.

Implementing the program was part of a settlement reached last year after a federal judge put a stop to stop-and-frisk, which many said unfairly targeted black men while doing little to reduce crime.

"Having patrol officers wear body cameras during this pilot demonstrates our commitment to transparency while it will also allow us to review its effectiveness with the intention of expanding the program," said Police Commissioner William J. Bratton.

The department will use two camera models: the Axon Flex developed by stun-gun magnate TASER, and the LE3 made by Vievu. Bratton said the department chose the models after meetings with police officials in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Oakland.

Bratton said officers will begin wearing the devices in the fall.

Six command areas, those with the highest number of stop-and-frisk encounters in 2012, were chosen for the pilot program.

Those commands include the 120th precinct on Staten Island, which patrols the neighborhood where Garner died on July 17 after he was placed in a chokehold by officers trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes.

Garner's death, which led to a citywide backlash and criticism of the department's tactics, was later ruled a homicide. Two police officers remain under an internal investigation, and the Staten Island district attorney has convened a grand jury to consider criminal charges.

After Garner's death, Bratton sent a contingent of city officers to Los Angeles for additional training.

The Los Angeles Police Department began  a similar body camera pilot program earlier this year, with 30 officers who patrol the city's downtown area. The department expects to buy 600 of the devices.

Patrick Lynch, president of New York City's largest police union, seemed to cautiously embrace the program.

"A body camera pilot program is part of our challenge to Judge (Shira) Scheindlin's decision on stop, question and frisk," he said in a statement. "Police officers have nothing to hide, but there are many unanswered questions as to how this will work practically. We await the answers."

A series of recent questionable deaths after clashes between police officers and suspects have raised the national discussion on police accountability measures. Police in Ferguson, Mo., began wearing body cameras in recent days, a little over a month after the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man, sparked weeks of unrest in the St. Louis suburb.

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