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Mayor Walsh, area police, offer mixed response to use of body cameras

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Monday he is not ready to embrace the use of body cameras by Boston police, saying community outreach and improving job and educational opportunities are his primary focus to strengthen trust between police and the communities they serve.

"The body camera is a tool that can be used, [but] it goes a lot deeper than that," Walsh said in an interview after attending a meeting of mayors, police chiefs, and civil rights activists with President Obama at the White House.

The president proposed spending $75 million to help provide up to 50,000 body cameras for police officers across the country. Footage from the cameras could help resolve disputed situations such as the fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo., by Officer Darren Wilson of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

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Walsh said the cameras "aren't going to help with the fundamental problems between community and police."

"I'm not going to be distracted by having a conversation about whether or not police have body cameras," he said, adding that the focus of Monday's meeting was policing in America, and the different approaches, and results, experienced in various communities.

The meeting was in response to the nationwide protests — some of them violent — that erupted after a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson.

"We have to have a lot more discussion around race and racial issues," Walsh said. "It's not one that people want to have and people would rather forget about, but we're not going to forget about it in Boston. I made a commitment to have that conversation, and we're going to have it."

Meanwhile, the Boston Police Department released a statement saying it is not dismissing the idea of cameras, "but recognizes the need to flesh out the details to determine if the cameras will help the department in achieving its goals."

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A more positive assessment came from Ned Merrick, former Plainville police chief and former president of the state chiefs of police association.

"From a management point of view, it makes all the sense in the world to use the cameras," Merrick said.

But convincing police officers who are on the streets to accept them may be difficult, said Merrick, who had video cameras mounted on Plainville police cruisers while he was chief.

"There was some resistance – the idea of 'Big Brother' watching all time," he said.

Another potential hurdle would be the cost of using the cameras and storing the video, said Woburn Police Chief Robert J. Ferullo Jr.

"I'd rather have the money to use fighting opiate addiction and building relationships with the community," he said, echoing Walsh.

Still, Ferullo said, video cameras may come to be accepted over time – just like the video cameras that are now used in the Woburn police station.

"Let's talk about it," he said. "I'm not afraid of it. There is not one of my 96 officers I have any reservations over in terms of performance and behavior."

Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said implementing cameras is "something that any large police department needs to review," the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported.

"In society today there is a lot of video surveillance everywhere, but in those police high intensity/low frequency events, cameras might be most valuable," Gemme told the paper.


Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.

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Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.