Metro

Walsh promises funding for police body cameras

All Boston police officers could be wearing body cameras by the end of the year.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File
All Boston police officers could be wearing body cameras by the end of the year.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh committed Monday, in his strongest language yet, to funding police body cameras in Boston.

Walsh did not say how much funding the city would dedicate to the cameras, or provide details of what a body camera policy might look like, saying the city is still waiting for the final results of a one-year pilot program commissioned to determine whether police body cameras would work in Boston, and whether they would be worth the cost. Walsh did say that the funding would be “significant.”

“This [dedicated funding] will guarantee that the police department has the tools they need for implementation once this study is complete in June,” the mayor said through a spokesperson.

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Pending final approval, Boston police officials said Monday that a final police body camera program could be implemented across the department by the end of the calendar year.

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The commitment came after Police Commissioner William B. Evans signaled growing support for the program within the police department, saying the last hold-up to the implementation of the program is funding. It could cost $5 to $7 million to outfit the department with cameras and implement the program, he said.

“I think the mayor realizes the positive benefits to this, I know I do,” Evans told a City Council subcommittee Monday, though he added, “the biggest question always has been – how much is it going to cost?”

In a time of deteriorating relations between police and communities across the country, more and more departments have begun using body cameras to record police and civilian interactions, though they have sometimes come with controversy: Police officers say the cameras limit their discretion in making arrests, and change police interactions with civilians, while civilians say they help to ensure accurate police accounts amid concerns of excessive force.

The proposal for police cameras became a campaign issue in last year’s mayoral election, with Walsh questioning whether they would be beneficial in the city. The final report on the pilot program, conducted between 2016 and 2017, is due in June, though a preliminary review found that officers who wore body cameras were less likely to have complaints of wrongdoing filed against them.

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The researchers, from Northeastern University, said the review yielded significant findings worth further examination, but they also noted that the low number of officers with cameras in the study, and the relatively low number of complaints against Boston police compared with other departments in general, could make it difficult to say whether body cameras would affect police and community relations in Boston.

In the study, 100 cameras were placed on patrol officers and gang unit officers across the city for a year. Researchers analyzed the complaints filed against them and their reports of use of force against a similar group of officers who did not wear cameras. Evans said that officers who’d been reluctant to wear the cameras later said they were useful and helped to preserve evidence for both parties.

“I think the district attorney liked them, I think defense attorneys liked them,” Evans said.

City Council president Andrea Campbell, who has pushed for body cameras in Boston and requested Monday’s hearing, said it is only a matter of time and called for the city to study the use of other technology to help monitor and improve community and police relations.

“I think everyone recognizes this is the direction the city needs to go in. I think it’s figuring out now how do we get there?” Campbell said in an interview. She said the city could roll out the camera program in phases, or mandate that only officers in certain departments wear them. “My hope is to continue the conversation . . . on how we can get this done.”

An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that Walsh committed for the first time on March 12 to funding the body camera program, but he previously said he would set aside funding for the program during a Feb. 2 interview on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio.

Milton Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.