Fifty-four police officers wear body cameras while on patrol in New York City. Their ranks will swell to roughly a thousand as part of a pilot program overseen by a court-appointed federal monitor.
Officers should be directed to turn on the devices more frequently when engaging with suspects, and less often with victims and informers, the report said. The video generated on patrols should be kept for at least 18 months, rather than a year under the current policy, the report recommended, and the consequences of failing to record when required to do so should be made clear.
“We think it’s important that N.Y.P.D. get the policy right first,” Philip K. Eure, the inspector general, said during a news conference. “It needs to nail down the policy before you talk about a wider expansion of the program.”
Use of body cameras is seen by police leaders and by President Obama as one step that departments can take to improve relations between officers and the communities they serve, by deterring police misconduct or documenting it.
The report from Mr. Eure assessed the Police Department’s current policy and practice using the cameras during the test program, in part by drawing on the experiences of officers around the country.
“With the potential benefits,” he wrote, “come certain costs and concerns, including risks to the privacy and safety of both officers and the public.”
Basic questions about the use of the cameras remain, including how much discretion officers should have in deciding what to record and when, and who should have access to view the footage once it is stored. There is no consensus among police officials.
“Policies across the country run the gamut,” the report said, “ranging from mandating that officers record every encounter with members of the public to requiring recording only in encounters which involve specified enforcement actions, and finally, allowing officers full discretion in determining when to record.”
Under the New York department’s policy, officers are granted some discretion but are required to record in certain situations, such as during vehicle stops or when conducting patrols inside public housing buildings.
In a statement, Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said there were still questions about the cameras and procedures that should be “extensively studied” before additional officers are equipped with them.
“Many serious concerns about the use of body cameras have been raised on both sides of the issue,” Mr. Lynch said. “Cameras should not become another vehicle to make the job of policing any more difficult.”
Among its most significant recommendations, the report urged the broadening of routine interactions that are recorded to include “all investigative encounters.”
The current guidelines require an officer to record when there is “reasonable suspicion” of a crime. But the report said that threshold was too limited and could miss key moments preceding a street encounter.
At the same time, the inspector general, who is part of the city’s Department of Investigation, recommended stricter limits on recording certain groups, including sex-crime victims, abused children and informers.
“You can do all the redacting in the world that you want to do later on,” Mr. Eure said, “but once those vulnerable populations are on the video, are captured, they’re there.”
The report does not contain any data or analysis of the Police Department’s volunteer body camera program, which is in one precinct in each of the city’s five boroughs and in a service area that covers certain Brooklyn housing projects. But the report cited interviews with a group of officers, which provided a small window into their experiences.
“They spoke very freely,” Mr. Eure said. “We think we got a full, frank and candid view of officers.”
For example, the officers did not agree with their union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, that any requirement to turn on the cameras posed a danger by causing them to hesitate during fraught encounters. The officers, the report said, noted “the ease with which the cameras can be activated.” But it also said several officers turned on the cameras only when there was probable cause for an arrest.
The inspector general also recommended in the report the creation of a standardized “model notification phrase” to alert people that they were being recorded.
The inspector general proposed “I am advising you that our interaction is being recorded,” which, if adopted, could become as much a staple of policing in New York as “You have the right to remain silent.”