Data reported by the NYPD show police officers in New York City have dramatically increased enforcement against people using cell phone cameras to record the police.
Under the city’s new “Right to Record” law, the NYPD must report statistics on how many people are arrested or ticketed while capturing video or pictures of police interactions.
An I-Team analysis of more than a year and a half of enforcement data shows 338 citizens were arrested while recording video of the NYPD in the third quarter of 2022. That represents a 14 percent increase from the beginning of 2021.
Increases in tickets issued to people recording police climbed at even steeper rates. Criminal summonses to people using cell phone cameras are up 242 percent, from just 154 in the second quarter or 2021 to 526 in the third quarter of 2022.
In that same period, civil summons to people recording police shot up from 98 to 697 – a whopping 611 percent spike.
Most of the arrests are for criminal charges like assault, resisting arrest, obstruction or larceny. Most of the criminal and civil summonses are for offenses like drinking alcohol on public streets, noise violations or motor vehicle injuries. A vast majority of the city ticketed while recording video were people of color.
The NYPD declined the I-Team’s request for an interview, but a spokesperson issued a statement suggesting the stepped up enforcement against people using cell phone cameras is simply a product of stepped up enforcement overall.
“Police officers are working around the clock to make the city safer and the increase in individuals recording enforcement action being taken against them roughly correlates with general increases in enforcement between 2021 and 2022,” the statement read. “The report merely shows how often , who are being arrested or summoned for violating a law, record that interaction. Officers do not control when individuals choose to record them.”
But civil rights advocates say the NYPD’s explanation falls short. While it is true that total enforcement is up over the last year and a half, arrests and ticketing of people using their cell phone cameras have far outpaced enforcement actions against everyone else.
According to data provided by the NYPD, total arrests and summonses have gone up from 51,388 at the beginning of 2021 to nearly 77,000 in the third quarter of 2022. That’s about a 50 percent increase. The police have risen from 548 to 1,561 – a 185 percent spike.
“This recent uptick in arrests and summonses for people recording the police is really concerned,” said Molly Griffard, a Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society who says she was arrested in 2020 while recording cell phone video of police as they appeared to stop and Question a group of pre-teen boys in Brooklyn.
“When you see officers retaliate against people who are recording, sometimes what they are doing is actually trying to get rid of evidence of their own mistakes,” Griffard said.
Though New Yorkers have the unfettered right to record police as long as citizens are not interfering with law enforcement activity, last Spring Mayor Eric Adams (D – New York City) said he’s concerned too many New Yorkers are getting too close to police action with their cell phones.
“Stop being on top of my police officers while they are carrying out their jobs. That is not acceptable and it won’t be tolerated. That is a very dangerous environment you are creating,” Adams said.
Michael Nigro, a multi-media journalist who was arrested for disorderly conduct in 2016 after he took a picture of NYPD officers outside Trump Tower, said he feared the mayor’s comments could have a chilling effect, dissuading people from exercising and observing their right to the conduct of public servants in public places.
“These are violations of the First Amendment. We have every right to shoot in a public space,” said Nigro. After the charge against Nigro was dropped, he sued for false arrest and failure to properly train police officers, prompting the City of New York to pay a six-figure settlement for damages and legal fees.
Nigro’s civil rights lawyer, Wylie Stecklow, said he believes the Mayor’s comments have embraced officers to punish people who are lawfully capturing images of law enforcement activity.
“What the Mayor is doing is using code, using plain language code to the police officers, telling them he’ll have their back. They don’t have to worry about the right to record. That he’s concerned about them and not about worried about the right to record of the citizens,” Stecklow said.
Mayor Adams did not immediately respond to the I-Team’s request for comment.