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NYC Mayor Eric Adams Asks the Public to Stop Recording Police Encounters. What Will Happen to Police Accountability?

by Brooke Kaufman

An opinion piece from The Daily Beast writer Tana Ganeva responds to a recent claim from New York City Mayor Eric Adams that “a very dangerous environment” is created when people record videos of police officers. The videos, which can capture police abuse of power or excessive use of force, were described by the mayor as “not acceptable” — although the practice is entirely legal and constitutionally protected, according to Ganeva. Mayor Adams made the claim during a press conference to launch the New York Police Department’s Neighborhood Safety Teams. Ganeva said special units like this have a history of unlawful behavior such as illegal stops and planting contraband.

Citizen recordings of police incidents have proven useful in court. Take the recent case of 16-year-old Camrin Williams, for example. During an altercation with police, Williams’ gun discharged, and he was called a “cop shooter” by police unions, according to Ganeva. In court, Bronx Supreme Court Justice Naita Semaj viewed a video of the incident and reprimanded the two police officers for illegally searching Williams and lying about the stop under oath. Judge Semaj said the officers’ testimony had “no value” and credited Williams with doing everything right while being stopped and questioned.

Mayor Adams said the Neighborhood Safety Teams will have body cameras, but studies have shown these cameras won’t fix the problem of police accountability. According to an analysis from George Mason University, body cameras “don’t substantially change police or civilian behavior,” and they exclusively show incidents from the officer’s point of view. Cameras also don’t prevent abuses of power. The murder of George Floyd was captured on video by then-17-year-old Darnella Frazier, despite the police officers responsible wearing body cameras. Without Frazier, Floyd’s death would have been summarized “in the hollow language of a press release” from the Minneapolis Police Department.

False testimony, or “testilying,” is also widespread among the ranks of the NYPD. Frustrated with this practice, people like Jose LaSalle joined CopWatch, a volunteer network documenting incidents involving police. LaSalle and his 14-year-old stepson were physically and verbally assaulted by police during a 2011 stop. The precinct turned LaSalle and his wife away because they didn’t have “proof” of the assault.

“We’re out there recording, gathering evidence to show if people are detained unlawfully. If a person gets locked up we have evidence that they can use,” LaSalle told The Daily Beast. He also disagreed with Mayor Adams’ rebuke of citizen recordings. “In my eyes, he made a threat to people like myself who document the police, and it’s not something we’re taking lightly.”

LaSalle was arrested in 2016 after filming a stop and frisk in the Bronx neighborhood of New York. His phone’s audio recording captured police chanting “It’s a party!” after his arrest. LaSalle went on to file suit against the NYPD and settled out of court for $860,000.

LaSalle noted that the Neighborhood Safety Teams’ purpose is to confiscate guns. Clearly, police officers don’t have X-Ray vision, and must rely on illegal stops and searches of people in order to find illegal guns.

“You’d have to stop and search so many people to find one gun,” LaSalle noted. “It’s a pattern that can’t change.”

CopWatch will soon be launching Operation Wolfpack to record Safety Units in action.

“Adams can say don’t do this or that, but it’s not going to stop us from documenting the police,” LaSalle said.

People are protected by the First Amendment should they choose to record their police encounter or someone else’s. Citizen recordings are an important resource in upholding police accountability and preventing abuses of power.

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