Fewer dramatic videos of New York City crimes are in your internet news feed — and cops are debating whether that’s a good or bad thing.
After the NYPD released a video Dec. 3 of a masked attacker in Harlem clobbering a man in the head with a baseball bat with such force the victim immediately crumpled to the ground, brass at 1 Police Plaza began debating the propriety of publicizing such graphic surveillance footage.
When the bat-wielding man was arrested soon after the video went online and appeared in the media, cops determined that the bust was aided by surveillance images showing the suspect’s face — not the depiction of the savage crime.
“The video was sensationalism for the sake of being sensational,” one source said. “There was no reason to release that video.”
The result was a decision to curtail the release of video showing criminal violence — including footage of gun-wielding store robbers, or gangbangers shooting at each other. Instead, the NYPD prefers to release still pictures or videos that show a suspect, but not the crime itself.
But other sources said that the department has overreacted by not releasing the videos showing criminal violence.
“You guys will run the videos that get more clicks,” a second source said, referring to the media. “More clicks mean it’s more likely that someone who knows the perp will call us with a name.”
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective supervisor now teaching at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said graphic video will generate more interest in a crime than a mere crystal-clear picture of a suspect.
“Because of the heinous nature of some of these crimes, people will get upset over it,” Giacalone 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 said. “You get more attention with a video than a still photo.”
The NYPD in a statement noted that its press office in 2022 released 3,614 requests for media attention — up from 3,565 in 2021. Each was accompanied by photos or videos or both.
“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 statement said.
A police official said the department’s policy has not changed and that it has always tried not to release images of the actual crimes. Keeping the violent images from the public is a way to avoid traumatizing victims and their families, and to tamp down on the perception that crime is worse than it actually is, the official said.
Mayor Adams has spoken in recent months about the perception of crime outpacing the actual crime rate, at one point accusing the media of highlighting “on the front pages of your paper every day” the worst of each day’s subway crimes.
But a spokesperson for Adams says curbing the release of the violent videos was not the mayor’s idea. “The mayor did not give any direction to change existing policy,” the spokesperson said.
John Jay College Prof. Elizabeth Jelgic, a clinical psychologist, said there is evidence that crime videos can traumatize those who watch them — even if they are not the victims — and can scare away tourists.
But she also said there is no clear template because videos do generate tips to police that lead to arrests and prevent the same suspects from committing other crimes.
And, she noted, some videos, whether they are released by police or by citizens, can transform a nation.
“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 of the Facebook video that shows Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis cop.
“It also really started a movement. It got people to recognize a social problem and caused them to act,” Jelgic said. “So there’s a balancing of what is being shown and for what purpose.”
With Michael Gartland
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