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From the New York Times, I'm Sabrina Tavernisi, and this is the daily. A decade ago, police departments across the country began requiring officers to wear body cameras. It was the single biggest change to come out of the police reform movement, a piece of technology that promised accountability in policing. Today, the Times magazine and the news organization ProPublica investigate what happened with that reform and why it has not lived up to its promise. I spoke with ProPublica's Eric Kimanski. It's Monday, January 29. So, Eric, most of us have gotten pretty used to the idea that police officers wear body cameras on the job. Right. It's part of the uniform at this point, essentially. And it was one of the big things to come out of the police reform movement over the last decade. An activist had a lot of hope for these things. You are an investigative reporter, and you have been looking into body cameras and the fate of body cameras as a reform. When did you start becoming curious about them?


So it was in early 2023, January, actually. There was a particularly horrific police killing in Memphis. It was a young man named Tyree Nichols, and police had beaten him to death. And there was footage of it. And the footage came out, and I was reading about it, and there was this one sentence in the story, and the sentence in the story said that the officers were beating him with their body worn cameras on, and they knew that their cameras were on. And it just stopped me. I thought, how can it be that officers would beat somebody to death knowing it was being recorded?




This camera was a device supposedly to stop misconduct, and here was this misconduct. The camera was rolling, and no one seemed to really care.


Yeah, that was remarkable to me. And it was also a question of, how was this big reform, this huge? It was really the biggest changing in policing, I think it's fair to say, in a generation. How did it play out across the country? Did the promise of transparency and accountability? Was it really delivered?


Okay, so before we get to what happened with that reform, remind us how body cameras first came into use in the US. How long have they been around?


So body cams first became popular about a decade ago in the United states, and it was a very specific moment. And that was the police killing in Ferguson, Missouri, of a teenager named Michael Brown. That killing, there was no recording of it. There was enormous disputes about what happened in the moments before he was shot. And the killing set off the first nationwide Black Lives Matters protest.


Good morning, chairman.




And in response to that, my name.


Is Leslie McSpan, the mother of Michael Brown.


Michael Brown's own mother called for police to be equipped with body worn cameras.


On August 9, there was no recorded account of my son's last moments in life. I still do not have closure or the solid truth of what really happened that day. Please let police warrant body cameras be a voice of truth and transparency in Missouri communities. Thank you.


So then body worn cameras began spreading incredibly quickly around the country. The Justice Department announced 20 million in grants to get body cams on cops nationwide. And President Obama endorsed them and put federal money toward them. Part of the reason this time will.


Be different is because the president of the United States is deeply invested in.


Making sure that this time is safe. And it was really an idea that appealed across the political aisle.


This is going to strengthen the people of South Carolina. This is going to strengthen law enforcement.


Nikki Haley, then the governor of South Carolina, became the first governor in the country to require officers to wear. You know, the notion behind all of this was that you would have footage that would do actually kind of a whole variety of things. One is that there would be transparency so that community members could see for themselves what officers were doing and were not doing. Then you also have the accountability if officers were engaged in misconduct, that they would suffer some consequences for it. And then the third thing was really the kind of great hope, which is that if officers knew they were being recorded, they wouldn't engage in misconduct in the first place. They wouldn't beat people or shoot people unnecessarily. That was the hope behind all of it.


Right. And as you said, despite all of this promise, there's this gathering evidence that cameras are not actually delivering any real reform, even after they'd been adopted all over the country, as they had. So, Eric, where did you start to answer the question of what's going wrong here?


So I decided to look at New York City, and there are a couple of reasons that I did that. One, the NYPD is the world's largest police department. And what the NYPD does, other police departments around the country follow. So that's incredibly important. And then on top of that, there was this really interesting dynamic in New York, which is that a federal judge actually ordered the NYPD to begin using cameras in response to problematic policing.


And when did police in the city actually start wearing them? Like, when was the policy implemented, and what happened when they did?


So, in 2017, the then mayor, de Blasio, and the then police chief gave a press conference in which they said, this is the first day of the era of body worn cameras. And that means we are going on a pathway of transparency and accountability. We are rebuilding trust between the community and police. And it is a new day for accountability and transparency. Mark my words, this is going to make us safer. And so, just a few months after the press conference and all those promises, the first killing by police officers in New York City is captured on a body worn camera. And all those promises are put to the test. So police got a call to check in on a young man named Miguel Richards. 31 years old, Jamaican, college exchange student, lived in the Bronx, and his landlord hadn't heard from him in a while. And so the police officers show up, and after 15 minutes, they shot him to death.




And a week later, police decide to disclose some of the footage.


Phone nine.


And what does the footage they release show?


Officers walk into this apartment.


Guys, back up, back up. Go back. Foot in the door.


They find him in the far corner of his bedroom with dark sunglasses on, standing completely rigid.


Do you see me? Speak to me. Are you seeing me right now?


Not moving at all.


And, Ricardo, I see that knife in your hand.


He's holding a small knife next to his side.


It's not worth it. Put the knife down and walk out here with your hands in the end.


And they tell him to drop the knife, and he doesn't do so.


This is not going to end well for you if you'll put that down.


He doesn't respond at all. He seems to be basically catatonic.


Put that knife down. You hear me? Put that knife on the floor. Drop it.


And over the course of 15 minutes, the officers get increasingly concerned. In part, they worried that he had a gun, that they couldn't see his other hand.


You understand you are a seconds away from getting shot if you don't tell us what's in your other hand. We see where the other hand is.


And another officer comes with a taser.


I'll advise central, just having, you know, with a taser. Come over here, please.


But before the officer with a taser can even use it.


He's got a knife and a gun. There's a gun, dude, drop it.


One of the other officers decides to fire his gun.


Yeah, just go. He's my other gun. Just hit him, hit him.


They fire 16 times.


16 times.


Yeah, they fire at him 16 times.


It. You're back. You're back. You're right.


And they kill him.




And that's where the footage the police released ends.




And what did people think once that was made public? Once the footage was made public?


So the police commissioner, in an accompanying internal message, said sometimes the use of deadly force is inevitable and that the officers did the right thing. And as part of the message, he said, it reflects that all officers show tremendous restraint. But some people noticed the police had not actually released the full footage. What they had released was a compilation from a few videos, and it wasn't the full recording of what happened. And so a public interest lawyer, soon after the shooting, actually filed a public records request for the full footage. The police department rejected her request. She kept pushing and went back and forth with the NYPD for well over a year. And then a judge finally ordered the police department to hand over the full footage.


What did it show?


Holy shit.


The full footage showed officers walking over his limp body.


He's walking coffin. You're not hit, are you? Anybody hit?


One of them said, he's still alive. He's still alive. None of the officers who were initially there gave him any medical aid. And Richards lay bleeding on the ground for more than three minutes.


There's a gun somewhere. We'll find it. He's cuffed.


And one thing the video shows is officers looking for a gun. But there was no real gun. The officers later found a toy gun in his room.


He had something in his hand, like a laser point was pointing at. So I don't know if it was a gun or not.


And actually help had been seconds away. Other specially trained officers were at the scene and were actually walking up the stairs when the officers decided to shoot where there was no urgency to do so.


This new footage shows a much more complicated picture, and one that calls into question the behavior that the police commissioner previously said was okay.


Yeah, the footage and the internal investigation together show a really different picture. In fact, actually, the NYPD's investigators concluded that Richards had not been a danger to anyone, that he was, quote, unquote, contained. And the investigators had recommended punishing the officers for their conduct. And then the police commissioner had decided to just simply ignore them.


So, Eric, this seems to kind of fly in the face of what people working on police reform had hoped, right, that the footage from these cameras would be a clear window into what happened. And in this shooting, the initial footage did not tell us the full story. What do you make of this?


So, I think, fundamentally, what this tells us is that having a little black box on officers chest recording everything they do isn't enough, really. You need to address a more fundamental issue of who controls the footage that's being recorded on those cameras.


We'll be right back. So, Eric, we just talked about the first killing caught on camera in New York City. And you told me that the footage the police released really didn't show the whole story. And the real lesson from that is it's about who controls the footage. So in the case of New York, who does actually control the footage? I mean, it looks like it's the police.




Right. It's very much the police. And the reason for that is not that somebody made a proactive choice to give the police control. It's that really, the police in New York have been left, by and large, to police themselves. And so when body worn cameras came along, it really just sort of, as a default, made sense for the police to have the power to decide what is recorded, what is done with those recordings, what is released, and when.


And what's the argument for the police department having complete discretion over who sees the footage? I mean, how does the police department in New York talk about this? How do they justify that?


So what the police department typically says is that there are privacy. You know, there are legitimate privacy concerns. For example, if there's footage of somebody in their home and perhaps they're unclothed or there's a minor there, they also typically cite there being an ongoing investigation. And one of the issues is, well, that ongoing investigation can take well over a year.


Ongoing investigation. In other words, we really can't tell you anything because it might actually affect the outcome of this legal process that we have underway.




So I've spoken to a number of prosecutors and people in law enforcement about that specific issue, and there are legitimate reasons to hold off for some period of time because of the logic. If you have somebody who's involved in an incident, you perhaps don't want them seeing footage so that they can figure out what you know. Right. But that's not a reason to withhold something for a year. What people told me is that should be something that could be dealt with in a few days, in a small period of time. And that particularly in something like police shootings, it has to be balanced against the significant public interest in disclosure, in building trust between police and the community.


Okay, so the police officers have to use these body cameras, but the police department doesn't have to share what these cameras record. Is there no check on the police department?


So there is a check. It's a civilian oversight board whose job it is to investigate allegations of misconduct by the police. The problem is that it is deeply powerless just to take an example. It has no ability to access footage from body worn cameras themselves. A former head of this oversight board described it to me as a mother, may I process? They need to go to the NYPD and say, please, can we have this? You know, sometimes the NYPD gives it and sometimes they don't.


So this seems like a pretty big thing to leave out if you're trying to do a police reform.


It is. And frankly, what I've found is that the NYPD has used that power to monkey wrench the process. Just to give you a couple of examples of that, the NYPD would frequently tell the oversight board that it didn't have footage of one incident or another, only for the oversight board to later discover that video existed.




And then the NYPD also would withhold footage of shootings and other serious incidents for often well over a year. And that didn't just sort of slow down the investigative process, it actually cut it off, because in New York, there's a rule that disciplined cases must happen within 18 months of an incident. And so when the NYPD withholds footage, it's not simply a transparency issue. What it means is that this civilian oversight board effectively can't investigate and do its job. It has no ability to even recommend punishment against officers. And what that means is that even though there are cameras, there can be no accountability, which was the whole point of cameras to begin with.


Okay, so cameras were meant, really, as a defense against police misconduct. But police in New York don't want that misconduct to have to be scrutinized or have one of their own punished. And because the police are the only ones with their hands on the button, so to speak, it turns out to be kind of a useless tool. Right. These cameras, at least in New York, when you were doing your reporting, did you find any place doing it differently, any place where it actually was working?


So, yeah, I spent some time looking for exactly that, and I ended up in a place that, I have to say, surprised me. And that's Chicago, really.


I mean, I don't generally think of Chicago as, like, a paragon of policing.


Chicago is certainly not a paragon of policing. You're absolutely right about that. It has a long and, frankly, brutal record of policing over many decades. But Chicago went through some enormous changes about, actually, a decade ago, and that's after police shot and killed a 17 year old named Laquan McDonald in 2014. So at the time, there was a shooting every five days in Chicago of primarily black male residents by police. And the shooting of Laquan McDonald was initially treated as another one of those. It's not a big story. Then a whistleblower tipped off a local advocate and journalist that there was dash cam footage of what happened and that what it showed was very different than the initial accounts. The local advocate said that what it showed was that Laquan McDonald had been shot 16 times. It was essentially an execution. The city had fought for nearly a year against that footage becoming public. And when the footage came out as a result of a judge's order, the consequences were cataclysmic.


The mayor of Chicago has fired the city's top cop.


The police chief was forced out.


His departure comes a week after one of his police officers was charged with the murder of a black teenager.


There was a federal investigation.


Accusations of a cover up have followed the mayor since the video was released.


And the mayor at the time decided not to run again. So the fallout, both from the killing but also from the COVID up, led to intense pressure on the city for major reform. And as a result, ultimately, Chicago was forced to reimagine police oversight.


And what changes emerged after the scandal? What happened? What did Chicago do?


So, just to take some examples, they dissolved their ineffectual civilian oversight agency, and they created a new one. And as part of this, you know, the footage had been so critical in Laquan McDonald's case, and so they put disclosure of footage at the center of all of this. The city committed to disclosing footage from shootings on a regular basis. They said they would do so within two months of a shooting. But just as critically, what they said was it wouldn't be the police who is ultimately in control of the footage and of what and when that is released. What they did was the new civilian oversight agency had the ability to get footage itself. It didn't have know. Send a very nice letter to the Chicago police Department asking for footage.


It was not mother, may I? Of New York.


Right. They didn't have to do that. They literally have logins to the system so that they can pull footage themselves. And then there's the second key component of it, which is that it's that agency and not the police department that has the authority to disclose the footage publicly. And that is what they have done.




So a very different scenario from New York. And going back to the earlier part of our conversation, this would seem to be a real way to make cameras the tool that activists imagine that they would be right by spreading around the power to control the footage to other things, like these civilian boards taking the monopoly away from the police department. So, Eric, what is the effect of this reform on the numbers of police shootings in the city? Has there been a change in the numbers since it was implemented?


So in Chicago, in the days since Laquan McDonald and all of these changes have been implemented. And I should say that there were a enormous number of changes in Chicago. It wasn't simply cameras, but there have been real significant, measurable, critical changes. So police shootings have dropped by roughly half. Before. I had said that there was one every five days last year. There were 22 in all of last year.


Wow, that's a big drop.


Yeah, it's a significant drop, and it's not the only drop. Use of force has also gone down by officers by about a third. And so you see real significant changes in Chicago. And lots of folks I spoke with there emphasized things are not perfect there. You still have officers frequently not turning their cameras on when they should. And you still have the police department trying to create a narrative, for example, around shootings, but it's much more difficult for them now that there's a third party that's releasing all the footage.


So, Eric, we have two cities that look pretty different in terms of their approach to reform. Right? So across the United States, are there more New York's or more Chicago's, which is typical.


So New York is know, we actually found that even in police shootings, the most extreme use of force that police can engage in, police are, more often than not, not releasing footage. So you really have lots of places looking like New York. I've been reporting on this issue for basically a year, and throughout it, I've been asking, can you tell me of an instance where the police are not in charge of disclosing footage? And throughout it all, I could only find one, and that's Chicago.


So how applicable is Chicago to the rest of the country, Eric? I mean, you said it's singular now, but could it be some sort of model in the future?


Yeah, so I think it could be. I mean, there's no natural law that says there must be weak civilian oversight of policing in the United States. What it requires, frankly, is political will on behalf of mayors and other local leaders to say that this way isn't working and that there is actually another way to do things. What happened in Chicago, it took a horrific scandal to force change, but there's no reason there has to be a horrific scandal in every city. I mean, it's we as taxpayers who are paying for this technology, and it can be useful, it can be put to good use, and it can make a difference.


Eric, thank you.


Thank you.


We'll be right back. Here's what else you should know today. On Sunday, three american soldiers were killed and 25 were injured in a drone strike in Jordan. President Biden said in a statement that an Iran backed militia had carried out the strike, which took place on an army base near the syrian border. The deaths will put more pressure on Biden to respond more forcefully in the Middle east as the war in Gaza threatens to spread, and the United nations highest court ruled that Israel must take action to prevent acts of genocide by its forces in the Gaza Strip. However, the court stopped short of calling on Jerusalem to stop its military campaign. The ruling, which was preliminary, had elements that each side could embrace. The court ultimately allowed the genocide case to proceed, which will likely keep Israel under international scrutiny for years to come. Finally, former President Donald Trump was ordered by a Manhattan jury to pay $83 million to the writer E. Jean Carroll for defaming her in 2019 after she accused him of a decadesold rape. It was Trump's second trial in Carol's case. She was awarded $5 million last spring after a jury found Trump had sexually abused her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room.


In the mid 1990s, Carol's lawyers had argued that a large award was necessary to stop Trump from continuing to attack her. Today's episode was produced by Eric Krupke, Olivia Nat, and Stella tan. It was edited by Brendan Klinkenberg with help from Michael Benoit. Fact checked by Susan Lee, contains original music by Marion Lozano, Dan Powell, Rowan Nemastow, Diane Wong, and Sophia Landman, and was engineered by Alyssa Moxley with help from Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Lansberg of Wonderley. That's it for the daily I'm Sabrina Tavernisi. See you tomorrow.