August 3, 2015 5:00 pm


NYPD IG: Must Alter Body-Camera Process

Based on 12 Cops’ Feedback


PATRICK J. LYNCH: ‘Shouldn’t make job more difficult.’  
PHILIP K. EURE: ‘Too many inconsistent practices.’  

Only 54 NYPD officers in six units are equipped with body cameras, but the Inspector General for the Police Department has already recommended changes in the rules, including increasing the amount of time the cameras are turned on.

The Inspector General’s Office “conducted interviews with 12 officers participating in the volunteer program and found, through a discussion of their personal experiences over the course of the past several months, disparate and inconsistent practices concerning camera activation, despite NYPD’s written policies,” according to a report released July 30.

‘Nail Down These Policies’

“It’s imperative that the Police Department nail down these policies and provide the best possible and comprehensive training in order to expand the body-worn-camera program further,” said the Inspector General, Philip K. Eure.

The three-ounce cameras are attached to an officer’s uniform or eyeglasses and turned on and off by the wearer. Peter Zimroth, the Federal monitor appointed by a Judge who found the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program was run in an unconstitutional fashion, has called for expanding the pilot program to 1,000 officers in 20 precincts.

Under NYPD policy, officers are to turn body cameras on when they have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, such as when they are engaged in stop-and-frisks, stopping vehicles and using force. They may keep their camera turned off when dealing with victims or witnesses, or when they believe using it could jeopardize their safety.

The report recommended that body cameras be turned on during “all street encounters or all investigative contacts.” Sergeants’ Benevolent Association President Edward D. Mullins told the Daily News, “The reasonable-suspicion standard is limiting opportunities where the camera should be on.”

The report also called for prohibitions on filming encounters with people such as sex-crime victims, abused children, undercover officers, informants and witnesses.

Give Citizens Notice

Current policy encourages officers to inform people that they are being recorded, but suggests no specific language. “NYPD should provide officers with a model notification phrase to advise members of the public that they are being recorded, such as, ‘I am advising you that our interaction is being recorded,’’’ the report said.

The NYPD requires that body-camera footage be retained for at least a year unless it has become a part of legal proceedings. The report recommended increasing that period to at least 18 months, to fit the statute of limitations for filing administrative charges.

Extending the retention period is sure to increase the cost of the body-camera program. Mr. Bratton has said that the cost of buying the cameras pales in comparison with the cost of storing the video.

Speak, Then Review

The report calls for the department to prohibit both officers and civilians from reviewing body-camera footage of a particular incident until they make a statement on the incident.

In preparing the report, Mr. Eure talked to the Police Department, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The PBA, commenting on the report, injected a note of caution.

“Many serious concerns about the use of body cameras have been raised on both sides of the issue,” said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch. “Before any decision is made about their implementation in this city, the issue needs to be extensively studied. Cameras should not become another vehicle to make the job of policing any more difficult.”

A quarter of the nation’s police forces used body cameras in 2013, according to a report by the Police Executive Research Forum. The hope was they would deter misconduct by officers and record it when it happens, and also discourage frivolous civilian complaints.

Cincinnati Case Resonates

Sometimes they have provided crucial evidence, as in the case of a white University of Cincinnati police officer, who was indicted for murder July 29 in the shooting of a black motorist he had stopped for a missing license plate.

The officer, Ray Tensing, had reported that he fired when the driver, Samuel Dubose, restarted his car and was dragging him along the road. The body-camera video showed no aggressive action by Mr. Dubose, said prosecutor Joseph T. Deters. “It was a senseless, asinine shooting,” he said.