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Support continues for police body cameras

A six-month pilot program would see 100 Boston police officers outfitted with body cameras.
A six-month pilot program would see 100 Boston police officers outfitted with body cameras.(Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press/File)

Advocates and Boston residents on Tuesday continued to voice support for a pilot program to outfit 100 city police officers with body cameras as soon as next month.

They made their feelings known during an hourlong hearing of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee that drew about 20 spectators to City Hall.

“It protects police and it protects the citizenry,” said Carl Williams, staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts, during the hearing. “This is 21st century policing.”

Civil rights advocates nationwide began a renewed call to outfit officers with body cameras in the wake of a fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Missouri in 2014, among other similar cases.

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In Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration has set aside $500,000 for a six-month pilot program to outfit 100 officers with body cameras throughout the city. City officials expect it to begin in June or July.

A team of researchers will analyze the recorded data before deciding whether to continue placing body cameras on the roughly 2,100 members of the force.

Any departmentwide camera policy would be subject to collective bargaining with the police union.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Mark Mallard, an Allston resident who serves on the Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities, questioned whether police will be able to alter the recorded data.

“I have distrust for the police, period,” said Mallard, who grew up in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, where testy police encounters are more common.

“You know and I know, inherently, we’ve had problems of police doing what they want to do,” he said.

Councilors said city officials are still determining the scope of the program, including whether a third party will have sole access to the data once it is recorded.

Ashley Brown, of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, spoke in support of the program.

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She said cameras may capture “something that can speak to the . . . complaints that we get on a weekly basis, about officers’ interactions with citizens.

Brown said she hoped the program would lead to meaningful change in the city.

“We don’t want to just run a pilot program ... for the sake of testing a device,” she said.

Councilor Andrea Campbell, chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, said officials need to work out the specifics of the program for it to be successful.

“One thing that’s been clear [during prior community meetings] is that we don’t have it all figured out,” Campbell said.

Boston police officials did not attend Tuesday’s hearing because they were attending services for an officer who recently died.

City Councilor Tito Jackson said after the hearing that the council asked police officials not to attend the hearing so they could go to services for “their fallen hero.”

The council will hold another hearing in the near future so Police Commissioner William Evans and his second-in-command, Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross, can discuss the pilot program, Jackson said.

Jackson said he would like the program to start as soon as possible.

“We have to implement it,” he said in an interview after the hearing. “This is a critical process that we must move forward on.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.