Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins heard plenty of disturbing testimony this week during hearings on the lawsuit brought by the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association seeking to stop the city’sbody camera pilot program. Amid a national outcry over policing tactics in minority communities, many Boston residents want police to wear the cameras to record interactions with the public. After months of negotiating, the union and the city reached an agreement in July making the pilot a voluntary program. Now the BPPA’s lawsuit claims the Walsh administration violated their collective bargaining agreement by ordering officers to wear the cameras when not a single officer volunteered to participate in the pilot.
But the city’s lawyers revealed this week that the BPPA didn’t fulfill its end of the deal. They produced photographic evidence that the union was encouraging its members not to sign up for the program. A notice posted to a bulletin board at a Hyde Park police station read in part: “The position of the BPPA is that NOBODY in the BPPA membership should volunteer for this program.” Another notice was just plain coercive: “Sanction any officer who volunteers.”
The BPPA can’t have it both ways —undercutting its bargain with the city one day, then going to court insisting on the sanctity of bargaining the next — but that’s what Patrick Rose, the union’s president, is trying to get away with. He said this week that this case “has nothing to do with body cameras. This is simply about bargaining.” John Becker, the BPPA’s lawyer, also expressed support for a body-worn camera program at court. “What we’re seeking is a delay, not a stop to that program.”
The union’s contradictory and intractable stance doesn’t seem to fully represent the standpoint of rank-and-file cops. “I went to all the roll calls of the last two or three months and nobody expressed any opposition to the program,” said Police Commissioner William B. Evans. That’s why it never occurred to him that no one would volunteer.
In contrast, the commissioner had no trouble finding volunteers among his command staff. In a show of leadership by example, Evans announced today his eight commanders, including Superintendent In Chief William Gross, will be wearing body cameras.
The union’s stance relies on the questionable idea that an order to wear body cameras must be negotiated with officers, just like a pay raise. The city did make a sincere effort to implement the body camera program through collective bargaining, but Evans is well within his rights as Boston’s top cop to simply mandate that police wear them. What power does the police commissioner have if not this? Boston residents want body-worn cameras, their elected representatives and city officials have heard the message, and it’s time for the public interest to prevail.
After all, the problems that body cameras are designed to help solve have not gone away. “Just last night we had a homicide, a young African-American was shot, and the crowd turned completely on us,” Evans said. “We were hit with insult after insult. If we had the program, we could have captured that. I would hope a body-worn camera would de-escalate a scene like that.” He’s right, and hopefully Wilkins will see through the union’s obstruction tactics.