NYPD must hand over 2,700 surveillance docs on 2020 BLM protests: judge

Prayerful Protest, Black Lives Matter
New York Supreme Court Judge Justice Laurence Love declared on Friday that the NYPD’s withholding of surveillance documents of 2020 BLM protests and argument that the volume of information would impart a burden on the police department had been “utterly refuted” by Amnesty International.
File photo

The NYPD must disclose roughly 2,700 documents and emails regarding its surveillance of Black Lives Matters protests from March to September 2020, after a ruling from the New York Supreme Court.

State Supreme Court Judge Justice Laurence Love declared on Friday that the NYPD’s withholding of documents and argument that the volume of information would impart a burden on the Police Department had been “utterly refuted” by Amnesty International, an international human rights organization.

In Sept. 2020, Amnesty International had filed FOIL requests to the agency to thoroughly investigate the NYPD’s usage of facial recognition technology throughout New York City. In July 2021, Amnesty International and S.T.O.P, a privacy and civil rights group, filed a lawsuit against the NYPD when they did not comply with their request to disclose its records.

According to Amnesty International, the NYPD has more than 15,280 surveillance cameras at intersections across the city, with 3,470 sited in the Bronx.

“New Yorkers demanding racial justice have a right to know the full details of NYPD’s use of facial recognition technology during the BLM (Black Lives Matter) protests. This ruling recognizes that the NYPD broke the law in withholding this information and is a significant step in holding the NYPD accountable for its use of discriminatory surveillance,” said Matt Mahmoudi, Amnesty International’s researcher on Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights. “It is a damning indictment of the NYPD’s lack of transparency and accountability to the public that it took a lawsuit to achieve this.”

The nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 shined a spotlight on misconduct within America’s policing system in the wake of the officer-involved deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that year.

One of the largest police oversight entities in the nation, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) revealed on Thursday that 319 active complaints — including 12 complaints against then Bronx-based police officers — allege misconduct by police throughout New York state during those 2020 protests.

CCRB officials said 269 cases have been closed, with 187 substantiated allegations filed against 104 members of law enforcement and that the highest level of discipline for the most serious allegations of misconduct, against 61 police officers, could result in an administrative trial run by the CCRB’s Administrative Prosecution Unit.

In February 2022, research by Amnesty International revealed New Yorkers living in areas at greater risk of stop-and-frisk by police are also more exposed to invasive facial recognition technology.

The analysis showed how the NYPD’s surveillance operation particularly affects people already targeted for stop-and-frisk across all five boroughs of New York City. In the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, the research also shows that the higher the proportion of non-white residents, the higher the concentration of facial recognition compatible CCTV cameras.

Adams looks to expand facial recognition as part of his crime-curbing plan amid widespread privacy, racial bias concerns

The use of facial recognition technology has long been controversial and the subject of various civil rights and constitutional lawsuits.

The Bronx Times reached out to NYPD for comment and is awaiting a response.

This article was updated at 1:56 p.m. on Aug. 2.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

More from Around NYC