The New York City Police Department is reportedly scaling back the number of graphic videos capturing violent crimes it releases to the public – footage that’s routinely publicized in an effort to nab suspects.
N.Y. Daily News reported the NYPD’s top brass began debating the issue after the department released graphic video depicting a Dec. 3 incident when a masked attacker was captured on camera pulling an orange baseball bat from his pants and clobbering a 47-year-old video on a Harlem street.
The suspect was arrested soon after the video went online and was published by media, but police leadership credited stills from surveillance images showing the bat-wielding man’s face – and not the graphic video of the attack itself – for leading to the apprehension.
One source said the video of the attack amounted to “sensationalism.” And in recent months, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has contended that the perception of Big Apple’s subway crime, for example, is greater than actuality.
Experts who spoke to the Daily News, however, said that the graphic videos of the crime itself – not the stills of the suspect or other videos showing the suspect walking from the scene, for example – are the ones necessary to inspire tipsters who would normally remain quiet to give information or a name to police. Outrage over the violence itself also drives clicks online, leading to more eyeballs on the videos.
“Because of the heinous nature of some of these crimes, people will get upset over it,” Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective supervisor now teaching at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said. “Where you would normally have somebody protecting somebody else or not snitching on somebody, when there is a video showing people getting violently attacked, [tipsters] are more likely to come forward.”
“I think the police are doing themselves a disservice because these videos do evoke a reaction from the public,” he added. “You get more attention with a video than a still photo.”
A police official said the NYPD’s policy has not officially changed, and top brass has always used discretion in choosing whether to release video in order to avoid re-traumatizing victims or their family members. Adams’ office said the mayor did not order any policy change.
Elizabeth Jelgic, a clinical psychologist and professor at John Jay College, told Daily News graphic video can traumatize others besides just those immediately affected by the crime and can deter tourists. On the other side, she recognized how the attention from graphic videos does get more offenders off the streets, sometimes preventing them from committing further acts of violence.
She also recognized the power behind graphic video, whether shared by police or bystanders, can drive movements or shape a nation as it had following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“If you look back at the George Floyd murder, many communities were very much traumatized, especially communities of color, by the footage of that event,” Jelgic said. “It also really started a movement. It got people to recognize a social problem and caused them to act. So there’s a balancing of what is being shown and for what purpose.”
In a statement, the NYPD press office said it released 3,614 requests for media attention in 2022 – an increase from 3,565 in 2021. Each request comes with attached photos or videos.
The work remains core to the department’s mission to disseminate the clearest, most accurate images of crime suspects in order to facilitate their arrest and to advance the cause of justice,” the NYPD said.
On Jan. 5, the NYPD announced citywide crime statistics for December. Overall index crime in New York City decreased for the second straight month, declining by 11.6% compared with December 2021.