Boston Police clearly don’t enjoy having their work publicly filmed by amateur videographers with smartphones. But the federal courts have upheld Americans’ right to record the actions that officers take in public. That’s how a college student captured a recent image of a Boston Police officer with his hand around the neck of a protester on the Boston Common. While some officers regard such images as a nuisance or a threat, the ubiquity of cameras offer protection for civil liberties — and also for good police work.
Police are still investigating the Boston Common incident, which occurred on a day Tea Party supporters clashed with counter-protesters, but the officer almost surely overreacted. The rule of thumb is that any officer with enough cause to put his hands on someone in such an aggressive manner should have plenty of reason to make an arrest. None was made in this case. The officer did himself no favors, either, by trying to block the lens of an onlooker’s camera. The police are trained to de-escalate situations. When an officer with a good service record goes so quickly for the jugular, better training is in order.
New technology would help, too. Police in scores of jurisdictions now wear unobtrusive cameras on their uniforms. The miniature cameras are useful in gathering evidence, and in sorting out disputes that arise following confrontations with police. Police unions are often suspicious of the new technology, but they shouldn’t be — especially when many officers believe citizen shutterbugs portray just one side of the story.
Big city departments, including Cincinnati and Oakland, have adopted the cameras. The Boston Police should consider them, too. There should be enough room on a police officer’s chest for both a badge and a camera.