What’s the wait for police body cameras?
The yearlong body-worn camera pilot program at the Boston Police Department came to an end last week. But Bostonians will have to wait at least nine more months to learn if the BPD will join other major cities with a permanent, department-wide bodycam policy.
That’s an unreasonable timeline that’s already been stretched for three years. As long as the BPD is controlling the pace, and heavily influencing the decision, the process will slowly play out until an incident (not captured on video) forces political action. All the candidates for mayor should commit one way or the other to a bodycam policy before the election and set out a timeline for implementation.
Mayor Marty Walsh initially opposed body cameras in late 2014, but eventually warmed up to the idea. A year and a half later, once the city announced it was ready to launch a pilot program, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association took Walsh and Commissioner William Evans to court in a last-ditch effort to kill the program. A Superior Court judge sided with the city and ordered it to go forward a year ago.
Originally, the pilot was supposed to last six months, but Walsh extended it earlier this year so that it would capture the busier police activity of typical summer months. Last week the city released its nine-month plan to review the data collected in the pilot. Officers wearing cameras captured over 4,400 hours of video in more than 33,000 separate incidents, producing an average of 96 videos per day.
A preliminary analysis of the data is expected by the end of the year, with a final report coming in June. According to the Police Department, the months-long comprehensive study will “determine the overall effectiveness of the body cameras and whether or not a program of this type is in the best interest of the BPD and the community we protect and serve.”
But what if the best interests of the Boston police and the community it serves are at odds? One thing seems clear: It’s in the political best interest of Mayor Walsh to avoid the issue until after the election. While there are challenges around privacy and financial considerations, other cities have found the dollars and the political will to make body-worn cameras a priority.
As for the police union, its rejection of body cameras is vexing. Video footage also helps officers. More often than not, cameras would irrefutably show how level-headed police can be and what a great service they provide. Videos of police misconduct get most of the attention, but they are not the whole story.
Beyond the long delay in adopting the policy, advocates say the framing of the data study is problematic. “It should have already been a foregone conclusion that we should have a body camera program,” said Segun Idowu, the co-organizer of the Boston Police Camera Action Team. “[Researchers] should be looking at how best to shape a permanent policy.”
Body-worn cameras are a proven tool that enhances police accountability and transparency, both for the public and the officers themselves. An additional nine months of study is unnecessary.