Wall Street Journal
July 30, 2015 8:59 p.m. ET

NYPD Urged to Use Body Cameras More Often

Department inspector general’s review recommends officers turn on cameras more frequently


New York City police Sgt. Andrea Cruz demonstrates a body-worn camera during a news conference at New York Police Department headquarters in Manhattan in September 2014.

The New York Police Department should broaden the guidelines mandating when officers activate their body-worn cameras to include all street encounters or investigative contacts, the agency’s inspector general urged Thursday.

The department’s inspector general released what officials billed as the first comprehensive review of the NYPD’s volunteer body-worn camera program. The 71-page report outlined 23 recommendations for improving the use of the technology as the department prepares to expand the number of officers with cameras to about 1,000 from 54.

The report comes one day after a University of Cincinnati police officer was indicted in the shooting death of a motorist who was stopped for a missing license plate, an incident that was captured on the officer’s body camera. Cities and states across the country have moved quickly to expand camera programs in the wake of a number of deadly police encounters.

In New York, the inspector general’s report recommended the department direct officers to turn on their cameras more frequently. The NYPD’s current guidelines instruct officers to activate the cameras only during moments of “reasonable suspicion,” according to the report.

“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,” Inspector General Philip Eure said.

NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis said the department is reviewing the report.

The report also recommended limiting the recording of vulnerable individuals, such as witnesses to a crime, and extending the minimum retention period for recordings.

The inspector general said the NYPD should limit both officers’ and the public’s right to view footage. If there are allegations of officer misconduct, the report said, neither the officers involved nor members of the public should have access to the footage before providing statements for an investigation.

Officials at the main police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, urged caution.

“Before any decision is made about their implementation in this city, the issue needs to be extensively studied,” said Pat Lynch, the union’s president. “Cameras should not become another vehicle to make the job of policing any more difficult.”

The body-camera pilot program began late last year before a court-ordered program was to be implemented as a result of litigation over the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics.

The program began with 54 police officers from six commands. A federal monitor at the NYPD asked for an expansion to 1,000 cameras in 20 precincts.

Officials said interviews with 12 of the officers using the cameras revealed there was confusion regarding when cameras should be turned on.

“What that told us is we need better training,” Mr. Eure said. “We need to layout the scenarios in clearer ways.”

Mark Peters, commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation, which includes the inspector general’s office, said the camera program, overall, appears to be working.

“The whole reason for a pilot program is because we know there’s going to be some course correction,” Mr. Peters said. “Yes, we saw some things that need to change, that’s not a lack of success, that’s proof of success.”

City Councilman Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, said it is crucial to ensure that the camera is “not going to be turned on and off at the officer’s whim and that it will really show what occurred as opposed to what the officer wants to be shown.”

Public Advocate Letitia James called the recordings a “win-win for everyone, especially for police officers that are falsely accused.”

“It goes a long way in improving police and community relations,” she said.