After a multiyear process, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said this week that the city will roll out a police body camera program in the coming weeks, despite continued opposition from the police officers union.
Walsh confirmed that the city has begun issuing equipment to police officers in two precincts that patrol South Boston and parts of Dorchester. The officers are slated to undergo training on May 6 and should be wearing the cameras later this spring, the mayor said, although city officials would not give an exact date for implementation of the program.
“Boston is a model city in our nation for having strong police-community relations, and our goal is to continue building trust and positive relationships between law enforcement officers and community members,” Walsh said in a statement. “We will continue to move forward in implementing a body camera program here in Boston as a way to support the incredible progress we have made in community policing.”
The rollout of the program could mark the end of the long process to bring body cameras to the city’s police force. Walsh and police leaders initially hedged on adding the cameras, despite significant community advocacy in favor of them. Following a pilot program that concluded last year, he ultimately agreed the cameras brought “small but meaningful benefits” to police interactions.
The program’s implementation was further delayed by negotiations with the union representing patrol officers, which opposed the cameras.
The pilot, which examined the use of 100 cameras in the field over a year, found that the number of complaints against officers who used the cameras, as well as the officers’ reported use of excessive force, dropped slightly.
The city did not say how many officers in the first two districts would wear the cameras, but the initial funding was for 400 cameras and related equipment. The mayor budgeted $2 million for the program for this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
For the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, the mayor proposed another $2.5 million in funding. The city projects it will spend $8.5 million over the first three years, and the program will have $3.3 million in annual operating costs after that.
Segun Idowu, a community activist and a founder of Boston Police Body Camera Action Team, which pushed for the pilot program, welcomed the mayor’s announcement, though he said he looks forward to the day when officers are wearing them.
“Advocates have been pushing for this for five years,” he said. “It’s concerning it took this long, but what we care about is getting them, and we’re looking forward to the plan for total implementation.”
Idowu said he recognized that recent studies have questioned the effectiveness of the cameras, and whether their value was worth the financial costs. But he pointed to the pilot program that found some benefits in Boston, and he said the city is in a position to learn from the recent studies.
“Body cameras are a reality, they’re going to be here,” he said. “It’s important that we, as a community, craft the policy, because they’re going to be filming us.”
Michael Leary, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the union that represents patrol officers, which unsuccessfully fought the implementation of the pilot program in court, said Thursday that the union continues to oppose the cameras.
Leary argued that they have not proven to be successful, and the cameras have been controversial in some cities for possibly changing the way officers interact with residents. He said the city could use the funding for more officers or for other equipment, such as more Tasers.
Leary said the union has no foreseeable way to halt the implementation of the program, but said it has filed a labor complaint that seeks, among other measures, more compensation for officers who wear the cameras.
“They are the biggest change in working conditions that officers have ever had — it’s a completely different way of doing policing,” he said. “It’s a lot of money this city is spending . . . to appeal to a small group of people who believe the police are all liars.”