IT APPEARS THAT the City of Boston will have to drag its police department into the 21st century, despite its kicking and screaming. For a force that prides itself on community policing, the Boston Police Department is strikingly oblivious to demands from its community for more accountability through the use of body cameras.
Mayor Walsh should insist — and the BPD needs to accept — that body cameras are coming, and the department should work in good faith to deploy them fairly and expeditiously rather than designing them to fail.
As part of an open public process that has included community meetings, the City Council will hold a hearing Tuesday on a long-discussed pilot program. What will result from these meetings isn’t clear. But what is clear is the voluminous evidence that police-worn cameras are a beneficial public safety tool for both officers and the community, and an integral component of modern law enforcement.
Why is Boston one of the lone holdouts among major metropolitan departments when it comes to deploying cameras? Police Commissioner William Evans contends that his “class act” department doesn’t need them. Which is a bit like saying that only bad drivers need to buckle up. Carry Evans’s tautological argument a bit further and it leads to the conclusion that the only appropriate time for a department to adopt body cameras is after a major incident.
Toward the end of June, 100 cameras will be distributed to BPD officers who volunteer to participate in the pilot. It will continue for six months and then be evaluated. The voluntary aspect of the program is problematic. In the New York Police Department, for instance, a voluntary pilot program with 54 wearable cameras was deployed a little over a year ago. Officers kept the cameras off and had to turn them on to record an interaction. But compliance wasn’t enforced and, not surprisingly, that resulted in only 15 minutes of footage, on average, per officer’s shift.
There are many other important questions that the City Council should ask: How should videos be released to the public? Should the cameras capture biometric information? How long should footage be stored? Should officers be allowed to review footage before they write their reports? And what should be the consequences of policy violations?
But the one question that has already been asked and answered is whether body cameras are coming to the streets of Boston. They are — for everyone’s safety.