Which police officers in Boston should be required to wear body cameras, and in what districts? When should they start recording encounters with civilians, and when can they turn the cameras off?
These are just some of the questions the newly appointed Boston Police Reform Task Force sought to answer Wednesday in the first of four public “listening sessions.” The task force, appointed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh in mid-June amid a national discussion of systemic racism and brutality in law enforcement, is soliciting public input before delivering a series of proposed reforms to the mayor next month.
In an Internet conference room, citizens peppered task force members Wednesday afternoon with questions about body camera requirements for Boston police officers and the privacy rights of citizens.
Those who took part in the session — they were not required to provide their full names — called on the task force to require that the Police Department disclose information on the demographics of those captured on video.
“How all this data gets used is a major issue,” said a woman who identified herself as Claire.
The city began rolling out a body camera program last year. As of March, roughly half of the department’s roughly 2,000 officers had been trained and equipped with cameras.
Some residents noted Wednesday that video footage could serve as a training tool for offices. Others said that cameras should be on at all times, though they noted there could be exemptions to making the footage public when children or victims of crimes are videotaped.
Task force member Darren Howell told participants the goal is to incorporate their input and questions into the task force’s proposals to the mayor. He said that many of the questions residents were asking, the committee members were asking themselves.
“We’re flying the plane while we’re building it,” said Howell, president of DRIVE Boston Community Resources Inc. and political coordinator for a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union.
One resident wanted to know what happens when an officer turns off a camera in violation of police protocol; what kind of discipline should there be?
Howell said those are issues the task force aims to address.
“I think it’s great to get some feedback, or some suggestions from the community, to see the parameters they’re thinking about,” Marie St. Fleur, a former state representative and a member of the task force, said during the hearing.
Walsh appointed the task force, led by a former US attorney, Wayne Budd, while declaring racism a public health threat in Boston. It was a historic announcement that will allow the city to look at new ways to combat systemic racism and oppression in Boston, specifically in its policing system.
Budd’s committee is charged with examining police policies, including training, use-of-force standards, and internal affairs investigations. The committee is expected to deliver a report by mid-August.
“We support the movement for racial justice, and we are dedicated to taking actions that will deliver concrete results for our residents,” Walsh said in a statement Wednesday. “This is an opportunity for everyone to share their experiences, help build solutions, and be part of Boston’s collective leadership. I look forward to receiving the recommendations from the task force so we can create change together.”
The task force’s work comes amid a national movement to reform police systems, following high-profile police abuses against Black and brown people.
On Beacon Hill, state legislators are debating laws that would hold police officers more accountable, including new standards that would hold officers found responsible for misconduct more accountable.
City councilors have similarly proposed several changes at the local level, including the creation of a civilian oversight board that would review accusations of misconduct independently of police.
Walsh’s task force is also looking at the creation of a civilian review board, as well as updates to training and use-of-force policies, and questions of implicit bias in policing.
The task force will hold listening sessions again on Thursday, to discuss implicit bias; on July 29, to discuss a civilian oversight board; and July 30, to discuss training.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617.