Mass. Senate president seeks funds for police body cameras
With growing discussion about police body cameras across the country and in Massachusetts, Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said Wednesday he wants the Legislature to come up with money to help local law enforcement try out the devices, with an eye toward learning more about whether a statewide effort would make sense.
He noted that there were already police body camera pilot programs underway in some Massachusetts communities and said that he supports the creation of a state grant program to help others try out devices that can record interactions between police and citizens.
“The whole conversation would be enhanced,” he said, “by actually playing it out in various types of communities across the Commonwealth so that we can develop a policy framework that makes sense if we wanted to move it statewide.”
Asked whether he hopes most police officers in Massachusetts will eventually wear body cameras, Rosenberg said he hadn’t considered it to that point and looks forward to a legislative committee studying the issue.
“I don’t think we should be talking about a massive statewide implementation all at once. I think we need to have pilots and examples,” he said, “so that the proper policies can be developed based upon real-life experience.”
The senator, who was elected to the chamber’s top leadership position at the beginning of the year, said he is backing a “modest” grant program, a nod to tight state budget times. Issues related to criminal justice have been priorities for the Amherst Democrat.
But it’s unclear whether the two other power players on Beacon Hill, Governor Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, support the idea of appropriating funds for the expansion of police body camera use in the state.
Lizzy Guyton, a Baker spokeswoman, said in a statement that “the governor is committed to learning more about the use of body cameras on a small-scale demonstration basis.” Asked for the speaker’s position on the Rosenberg proposal, a DeLeo spokesman, Seth Gitell, had no comment.
An advocacy group, the Boston Police Camera Action Team, lauded Rosenberg’s stance. One of the group’s organizers said in a news release that “it feels good to finally hear someone in our governing body commit to doing more than ‘have a conversation.’ ”
Felix Browne, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, said in an e-mail that there is not currently a state-funded grant program for communities to equip their police departments with body cameras.
With police-involved shootings driving a national discussion about the relationship between law enforcement and the people they serve, there has also been more talk about the record cameras on police can provide of their interactions.
On Wednesday, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville said in an appearance on Boston Herald Radio he backs putting the cameras on police officers in his city and would like it done soon.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston, Bonnie McGilpin, told the Globe Wednesday that Walsh and Police Commissioner William B. Evans are open to looking at whether body cameras for police officers would be a good investment.
But, she said in a statement, “they believe that body cameras are only one tool in police work, and do not address the fundamental problems of inequity in our communities.”
Last week, members of the City Council expressed differing opinions on a proposal for all uniformed and plainclothes officers in the field to wear body cameras.
Any police body camera plan will inevitably involve discussions of citizen privacy, whether the cost is worth the benefits of the devices, and the logistics of equipping police with them.
Rosenberg said he expected hearings on police body cameras this year and said the more data from local communities that everyone had on the pluses and minuses of the devices, the better.
“Transparency and technology are here to stay,” Rosenberg said. “This is going to be a growing movement, and we really need policy construct so it’s done properly and fairly.”