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NYPD body camera policy needs review, inspector general reports

A New York City Police Department police officer

A New York City Police Department police officer activates a VIEVU body worn camera during a demonstration at the new police academy building in Queens on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

NYPD rules controlling when cops should activate body cameras are too limited and should be broadened to give more leeway to officers, particularly in difficult street encounters, the city police inspector general said Thursday in a special report.

In a review of the NYPD body-camera experiment, which began in earnest in December, Inspector General Philip K. Eure came up with 23 recommendations to improve the program and noted that the current rules governing the use of cameras should be revised to address some privacy and legal concerns.

"We just feel very strongly that before they expand the program, they need to give a harder look at some of these issues, with respect to how quickly they got the program up and running," Eure told reporters during a briefing on the report.

Police Commissioner William Bratton announced the launch of a small pilot program to test body cameras late last year and by December some 54 volunteer officers were given cameras to use in five precincts around the city, as well as one covering public housing in Brownsville and Crown Heights in Brooklyn. The officers have the option of using a lapel camera or one contained in special glasses.

A camera experiment was ordered in 2013 by Manhattan federal judge Shira Scheindlin in connection with contentious litigation over controversial stop-and-frisk encounters. Officials said the program may expand to 20 precincts, and the city has funding to get an additional 1,500 cameras.

Eure said that some officers in the pilot program during interviews with his staff seemed unclear about the legal standard on how much taping was permissible under NYPD operational order 48, which covers the experiment. The order requires officers to turn on cameras in seven instances, including when they have "reasonable suspicion" a person has or may commit a crime, during all vehicle stops or arrests, as well as instances of use of force, adversarial encounters and during vertical patrols in apartment buildings.

But officers interviewed used different standards for recording, including one who kept the device on constantly, said Eure. The report said cops should be trained on beginning recording before a law-enforcement encounter since situations can escalate quickly.

Eure, who works with the Department of Investigation, also said recordings should be archived for 18 months instead of the current 12 months under department rules.

In a statement, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said the use of cameras by cops was an issue that needed to be "extensively studied."

"Cameras should not become another vehicle to make the job of policing any more difficult," Lynch said.

NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis said in a statement that the department was reviewing the study and was going to continue to work with Eure during the body-camera initiative.

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