More widespread use of body cameras ranks high among policing reform priorities, but a commission set up under the one-year-old reform law has missed its deadline to propose regulations governing standards for the procurement of body-worn cameras and vehicle dashboard cameras by law enforcement.
The law that Governor Charlie Baker signed Dec. 31, 2020 required a 25-member task force established by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to file by July 31 an interim report on its work product, including proposed regulations and any legislation that might need to pass to effectuate the regulations.
The law requires the task force to propose regulations establishing a uniform code for the procurement and use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement officers to provide consistency throughout the state, and to propose minimum requirements for the storage and transfer of audio and video recordings collected by body-worn cameras.
The July 31 report was never filed largely because the commission itself didn’t come together until well after that deadline and held its first meeting on Sept. 14.
“In light of the compressed schedule caused by the delayed convening of the members, the Taskforce does not presently have work product in the form of draft recommended regulations or proposed legislation to provide in this report,” task force chair Angela Davis wrote in a Dec. 22 letter to Senator Walter Timilty of Milton and Representative Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield, the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
Over the summer, Gonzalez said body camera use would help carry out the mission of the reform law. He called cameras “a useful tool that keep both police officers and members of the public safe,” citing research that found cameras “reduce department costs, promote best practices, and improve police-community relations.”
The task force, Davis said, looks forward to presenting legislators with the recommended regulations for law enforcement’s use of body worn cameras on or before July 31, 2022, the date specified in the law for the task force’s adoption of recommended regulations.
State officials this summer estimated that only 10 percent of municipal police departments in the state operate a camera program, but cited a Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association poll indicating that more than three of every four departments in major cities and smaller communities are interested in starting a program.
Davis, the state’s assistant undersecretary for law enforcement and criminal justice, said in her letter that the task force has been “hard at work” since convening, created several subcommittees, developed a website, and held four of the five public hearings that are required under the reform law.
“The Taskforce’s intention is to develop a draft of the recommended regulations by early next year and make them available for public input during the remaining public hearing,” according to Davis.