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Body camera ruling due by Friday

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe staff

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans testified Tuesday during a hearing in Suffolk Superior Court over the issue of body cameras for officers.

By Jan Ransom Globe Staff 

Boston’s top police official declared Wednesday that he will not back down from his plan to order 100 officers to wear body cameras, despite objections by the city’s largest police union that the move violates their contract.

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association has asked a Suffolk Superior Court judge to delay the body camera program, slated to start Monday, because no officers volunteered to take part. In the second day of court testimony, Police Commissioner William B. Evans said he thought officers were given “ample opportunity” to step forward.

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“We’re all ready to go and I’m not, at this point, going to rescind all of the training,” he said.

But some legal analysts said the plan, which would require 100 officers to wear body cameras while on duty, raises red flags.

“It doesn’t sound like they negotiated with the union over an alternative,” said Angela B. Cornell, a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School. “Management did not anticipate there would be no volunteers, but that doesn’t necessarily entitle management to unilaterally make changes.”

Other specialists in labor law said the case is a tough one to call.

“It’s unclear how the court might rule,” said Marc D. Greenbaum, codirector of employment law at Suffolk University Law School. “Even if the commissioner has the authority to implement, he still has to bargain regarding the impact of the decision.”

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Massachusetts law recognizes that public employers have the prerogative “to implement certain decisions,” but previous rulings on the issue “are not easily decipherable,” he said.

Superior Court Judge Douglas H. Wilkins said he will make a decision by noon Friday. In addition to granting or denying the union’s request to delay the program, Wilkins could order arbitration or send the case to the appellate courts, legal analysts said. The latter course would mean that any decision would have statewide impact.

In July, the patrolmen’s association and the city agreed that officers would volunteer to wear the cameras for a six-month pilot program, but Evans ordered participation after no officers did so.

Kay H. Hodge, a lawyer representing the city, said Evans was well within his right to assign body cameras.

“The ability to assign when faced with a circumstance is a prerogative that must rest with the commissioner,” Hodge said during closing arguments. “The safety of the community depends upon it, and therefore we urge the court to deny the preliminary injunction.”

John Becker, a lawyer who represents the patrolmen’s association, said the city breached its collective bargaining agreement when officials unilaterally assigned officers to wear the cameras.

Becker said the program should be placed “on hold” to allow further negotiations. Rank-and-file officers declined to volunteer because they sensed reluctance about the program among administrators, he said.

After the hearing, Patrick Rose, president of the patrolmen’s association, said the union’s objections were solely about collective bargaining rights.

“We support body-worn cameras,” he said. “Our membership supports body-worn cameras. Our union supports body-worn cameras.”

He declined to comment further.

Hodge, the city’s lawyer, said that the union breached its agreement with the city by discouraging participation in the program, including one notice that warned: “Sanction any officer who volunteers.”

According to an affidavit, a community service officer in Mattapan said at a community meeting on Aug. 25 that the union told officers not to volunteer.

“It is clear that the word was out not to volunteer,” Hodge said. “We have somebody who has, at least, not lived up to their obligations as they agreed to.”

Evans said he hopes Wilkins will rule in the city’s favor. If the matter is further delayed, the city risks losing the companies they have contracted with to provide the cameras, he said.

“I want to get this plan off the ground,” Evans said. “It’s unfortunate this is getting dragged out in court because people look at us like we have something to hide, and that’s not the case.”


John R Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter at @Jan_Ransom.