The Boston Police Department will notify 100 officers on Wednesday that they have been selected to participate in the city’s body camera pilot program, an effort to jump-start an initiative stalled for months by union negotiations and a lack of volunteers.
Speaking during the monthly “Ask the Commissioner” segment on
WGBH-FM’s Boston Public Radio on Tuesday, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said that a consultant has selected officers of all ages and races from five sections of the city and the department’s Youth Violence Strike Force to wear the cameras for a six-month trial. Any officer selected who chooses not to wear the camera would be subject to disciplinary action, Evans said.
Captains were notified Tuesday night which of their officers have been assigned, said department spokesman Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy. Evans said training will start next week and officers will be outfitted with the body cameras by September, but he is expecting some pushback.
Last month, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Evans struck a deal with the city’s largest police union to outfit officers with the cameras on a voluntary basis. As part of the deal, participants would get a $500 stipend. But after no one volunteered, officials decided to force officers to participate.
“Our agreement said it’s voluntary, but it didn’t rule out the fact [that] if we didn’t get officers that we could take action,” Walsh told reporters Tuesday. “That’s what we’re doing now. We’ve been talking about it now for a long time, we’ve been doing a lot of work and research on the background of this program, looking at other cities around America that have them, and we’re going to take the next step now.”
Walsh said 100 officers will be on the streets with body cameras the first week of September.
But Evans said on the radio that he expects to be challenged by the department’s unions.
“But that’s what the union does, they look out for their membership,” Evans said on the program. “Unless a court stops it, right now that’s the way we’re going.”
When asked if the unions plan to turn to the courts to stop the program, Patrick M. Rose, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, said, “We have no comment on hypotheticals.” He did not respond to questions about the city’s decision to force officers to wear the cameras.
Leaders representing two other police unions either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
The city and the police unions are currently engaged in contract negotiations.
During the radio interview, Evans said that he, the mayor, and union officials met Monday night to discuss the plan. He said he believes that the shooting deaths of five officers in Dallas had an adverse impact on discussions with union membership about body cameras in Boston. The Dallas shootings came after two shootings of black men by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Evans said he attended every roll call and spoke to officers about the body cameras. Older officers are the most hesitant, he said. Evans said he told officers, “We have nothing to hide.”
The officers tapped to wear the cameras were selected by Anthony Braga, director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University and a Police Department consultant. Braga and his team will review the results of the pilot before officials make decisions about whether to continue using the cameras.
For the pilot, the department purchased cameras from Taser and Veivu, McCarthy said. The training on how to use the cameras will be administered by the two companies and the department’s Bureau of Professional Development.
The use of volunteers had been a sticking point, with civil rights advocates contending that only officers with clean records would sign up, skewing the results of the pilot program.
Advocates said Tuesday that they were encouraged to see Evans and Walsh push to enact the camera program and pleased that it won’t consist of volunteers.
“They’re coming,” Segun Idowu, co-organizer of the Boston Police Camera Action Team community group, said of the body cameras. “And they can’t do anything about it.”
Idowu said he remains concerned about the officers’ ability to review camera footage prior to completing written statements. He said the department should also outline disciplinary action for officers who fail to use the cameras.
Carlton Williams, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said it has been the organization’s position that body cameras should be mandatory and questioned why city officials did not initially randomly select officers for the program.
“It’s their job,” Williams said of officers. “They could have another job if they don’t want to be accountable to the community. Being a police force that is transparent and building community trust is part of that [job].”Jan Ransom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.