NYPD Pulls 2,990 Body Cameras from Use After One of Them Explodes Into Flames

The New York Police Department is removing nearly 3,000 body cameras from use after one of the devices worn by a Staten Island officer exploded into flames, police officials said on Sunday.

The recall of the Vievu-brand LE-5 cameras could delay the department’s plan to outfit all 23,000 patrol officers with body cameras by December, and adds another twist to the complicated history surrounding the mechanisms that have already led to at least one lawsuit over how video from police encounters can be used.

The use of police body cameras has surged in recent years amid a national debate over police interactions with civilians, punctuated by fatal shootings by officers of mostly unarmed black teenagers and men. Law enforcement agencies have embraced the devices as useful tools for conducting investigations and evaluating officer conduct, while reform advocates espouse their potential to help curb abuses and increase transparency.

The city’s $6.4 million contract for the Vievu cameras set off a contentious debate in 2016 after it surfaced that other police departments had raised concerns about the cameras’ quality, and the city comptroller briefly blocked the deal. But the mayor and police officials defended their choice and moved forward with the plan. Vievu introduced the LE-5 in October 2017, listing among its features a lithium-ion battery that boasts more than 12 hours of recording time.

The Police Department on Sunday said it would pull 2,990 of its LE-5 cameras after the explosion “revealed a potential for the battery inside the camera to ignite.”

“The cause and the scope of the defect are currently being investigated,” police officials said in a statement.

The officer was wearing the body camera during a midnight shift in the 121st Precinct on the northwestern shore of Staten Island when he noticed smoke coming from the bottom of the device late Saturday night, according to the Police Department. He was not injured when the body camera exploded, the police said.

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SOURCE: New York Times, Ashley Southall