Surveying Boston Police's body camera program

October 2, 2016

 

The Boston Police Department launched an experimental program in the use of officer body

cameras on Monday, Sept. 12 over one month after the the program was scheduled to begin and two

months after the plan was originally announced by city officials in early July. The program, which

originally called for volunteer participants, faced delays far and wide after officers remained in the

shadows, prompting the non-voluntary inclusion of officers chosen at random. This, in turn, led to the

Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association – Boston’s largest law enforcement union – suing the Department,

stating that earlier agreements between them and police commissioner William Evans were no longer

valid.

 

However, on Friday, Sept. 9, Judge Douglas H. Wilkins ruled that BPD has the authority to order

the officers to wear cameras, citing his belief that the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association made

“unimpressive efforts” to persuade officers to sign up. The judge stated that at one point the Patrolmen’s

Association issued a directive that officers should not volunteer for the program, and expressed his

opinion that if the union had “mobilized even a small part of its membership, the pilot program would

have proceeded as a voluntary program.”

 

The Boston Globe quoted Evans after the launch Tuesday as saying, “It wasn’t personal; it was

business. It was something the community wanted, it was something Mayor Walsh wanted, and all we’re

asking here was for a pilot to look at the pros and cons.” Evans also referenced the success of a similar

program in Orlando, Florida's police department, arguing civilians and officers would mutually benefit.

The program, which took place between March 2014 and Feb. 2015, was declared a success by the

Orlando Police Department. The city of Orlando stated that the trial officers grew to appreciate the value

of the cameras, and declares on their official website that, “Many of the officers agreed that BWCs

improve evidence collection, report writing and help officers improve their police work in general by

having the opportunity to review their own video.”

 

Despite the positive sentiments elsewhere, Patrick Rose, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s

Association, told the Boston Globe that while he was disappointed with the ruling, “The BPPA is still

committed to working with the city and the department to make sure the citizens of Boston get a body-

worn camera pilot program that does what it is supposed to do, while respecting the rights of citizens and

police officers alike.”

 

Despite this controversy, BPD representatives state the program began Monday without further

delays or apparent difficulty. One hundred officers, chosen by a department consultant, and eight

volunteers, who are members of the department’s command staff, have been chosen to participate.

According the the policy the cameras are to be activated only while an officer is on duty and should

record all interactions the officer has with others in the course of his shift, including vehicle stops,

dispatched calls and other interactions. Under the policy, people involved in the encounters don’t have to

consent to being recorded, however the officer is encouraged to inform civilians that they are being

recorded and attempt to gain permission to continue filming. However, officers who are entering a private

residence without a warrant would be required to gain permission to film before turning their camera on.

 

Officers would have access to the recordings to complete an investigation, to prepare official reports and

prepare for court. While the media would have access to the footage via public records requests, witnesses and crime victims would have to go through the BPD Office of the Legal Advisor. These restrictions on both filming and access both seek to solve the issue of privacy and the accessing of videos of private individuals, which some police departments have allowed to be accessed by the public as part of public record.

 

With the beginning of this program Monday Boston joins the 1/3 of the 18,000 police

departments in the United States that have adopted body camera programs.

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