New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams today called on the New York Police Department to ensure their training, signage, and internal policies are fully in compliance with the Right to Record Act, legislation he passed in 2020 codifying New Yorkers’ right to safely record police officer activity. The transparency and accountability that this right helps to provide and protect are essential for law enforcement to play their role in co-producing public safety.
In a letter to the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD, Public Advocate Williams questions the leaders of the city’s police force about department policy and training related to recording officers on the job. He also called on the department to update its internal policies to be in compliance with the Right to Record law.
“The right to safely document police activity is foundational, and critical to public safety. We cannot give into the false notion that communities must choose between accountability and transparency in policing or safer streets,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “With that in mind, since passage of the law, civil rights advocates, as well as my office, have become concerned that some New York Police Department policies may be in violation of and opposition to the Right to Record.”
The right to safely document members of the NYPD is essential for transparency, accountability, and fairness for everyone in New York City. The Right to Record Act codified into local law a person's right to record New York City police officers or peace officers acting in their official capacity, from a safe distance and while not interfering with police activity. The legislation originally came after a number of prominent instances when civilians' right to record was deliberately infringed, and was enacted in the wake of the protests after George Floyd’s death on camera.
This new inquiry from the Public Advocate comes after reporting that then-61 year old Ms. Patricia Rodney was forcibly detained, and her arm broken, in December of 2020 after saying she would record office activity while at the 62nd precinct. There have also been additional public discussions in recent months about the right to record being questioned or impeded in street encounters.
The full text of the letter from Public Advocate Williams can be downloaded here.
Dear Commissioner Sewell and Assistant Deputy Commissioner Chernyavsky,
I write to you today concerning the public’s right and ability to record interactions with New York City Police Officers. In 2020, the City enacted the Right to Record Act, which codifies legal protections for New Yorkers who film police officers. The right to safely document police activity is foundational, and critical to public safety. We cannot give into the false notion that communities must choose between accountability and transparency in policing or safer streets. With that in mind, since passage of the law, civil rights advocates, as well as my office, have become concerned that some New York Police Department policies may be in violation of and opposition to the Right to Record.
According to recent reporting, in December 2020, Patricia Rodney went to the 62nd Precinct to file a police report for a lost glucose monitor. After multiple visits, and conflicting information from officers at her local precinct, she refused to leave the precinct without a police report. Officers at the Dyker Heights precinct informed Ms. Rodney that she was being recorded via body cam, and she took her phone out to record the officers as well. Immediately, the officers insisted she was breaking policy by filming them, despite her Right to Record protections, and tackled her, breaking her arm. The sign inside the precinct stated, “Members of the public are prohibited from audio/video recording or photography inside the facility.” However, that sign, and the behavior of the NYPD, are seemingly in violation of the Right to Record Act.
After this incident, and as there have been other questions and concerns about impeding New Yorkers’ right to record police, the city and my office need clarity on how the NYPD will meet their obligation and comply with the Right to Record Act moving forward.
Therefore, I ask the following questions:
- What policies are in place for police officers to interact with individuals that record near or in police stations when they do not pose a physical threat?
- How has the New York Police Department incorporated the Right to Record Act within these policies? Additionally, is the Right to Record Act incorporated into all written materials and signage inside and around police precincts?
- How is the New York Police Department training officers to be in compliance with the Right to Record Act?
I look forward to receiving your response within ten business days of receiving this letter. For further discussion, please contact First Deputy Public Advocate Nick E. Smith at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jumaane D. Williams
Public Advocate for the City of New York