Opinion | Martin J. Walsh and William Evans

Police body cameras and the community

Methuen MA 8/20/16 A detail shot of Methuen police officer Nick Conway's (cq) body camera on Saturday August 20, 2016. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff)
Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
Methuen police officer Nick Conway wearing a body camera, Aug. 20.

Training began this week for the officers participating in the Boston Police Department’s body-worn camera pilot program. Starting in September, 100 officers will be equipped with cameras for use in their daily work. We’re pleased to note that the pilot is proceeding along the timeline laid out when we funded and formulated it earlier this year.

It’s important to understand, as well, that the pilot is the result of an extensive and ongoing community conversation. When disturbing incidents from around the country came to light beginning in 2014, we immediately began meeting with community members, race and justice experts, and police officers, to discuss concerns that this kind of incident could happen in Boston. Body cameras have been a significant part of that conversation.

To be an effective tool, however, they must be implemented as part of a wider and deeper movement in community policing. No single technology can be a solution by itself.


That’s why all our public safety work has been focused on building trust with the community, de-escalating conflict, and moving increased opportunity to the heart of crime prevention. On the first day of the administration we met with survivors of homicide to make their voices part of the solution to violent crime. We then appointed the most diverse police leadership team in Boston’s history. We used a gun buyback program to foster a movement to get illegal guns out of our neighborhoods. We increased training in unconscious bias, de-escalation, and youth outreach at our Police Academy. Our officers have made an unprecedented commitment to youth outreach, from daily interactions to dozens of new programs. We created groundbreaking job training programs to give real second chances to court-involved young adults. We formed a Social Justice Task Force bringing together community, faith, and public safety leaders. By May 2015, Boston was recognized by the White House as one of a handful of cities “making real progress” in 21st-century policing.

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This is the context in which the conversation on body cameras moved forward. In City Council hearings and in meetings across Boston, continuing through earlier this month in Mattapan, we engaged in dialogue. We also listened to our police officers about their concerns, including the impact cameras could have on the daily interactions they use to build trust. We heard the entire community, and we responded with a real commitment.

In our first budget submission in April, we proposed significant funding for a body camera initiative, funding that the City Council approved, and which allowed us to proceed with the current pilot. Importantly, we designed the pilot by studying how other cities have implemented body cameras, to see what was working and where challenges were arising. We want to understand exactly how the cameras can contribute to public safety for all. Our own pilot will further advance this body of knowledge, when we study its impact with experts, community members, and officers.

Ultimately, we want to be sure any new investment in public safety supports the transformative progress we have made in community policing. As our officers embrace the role of guardians, rather than warriors, we are becoming a safer city. Both violent crime and property crime are down this year, for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, arrests dropped 15 percent last year and are down another 10 percent this year. We are making our city safer not by locking people up, but by lifting people up.

We look forward to learning more about the role body cameras can play in advancing this progress. In the meantime, we will continue to build trust with the people we serve every day.

Martin J. Walsh is the mayor of Boston. William Evans is the commissioner of the Boston Police Department.