Not everything in life is about money. Nor should everything involving work be.
Now, in an era when police violence against minorities has become a national flashpoint, the Boston patrolmen have generally done a laudable job, keeping tensions down by being low key, transparent, and forthcoming with facts — and, occasionally, apologies. Pushed by Mayor Marty Walsh, the BPD has also moved, albeit slowly and grudgingly, toward the use of body cameras. Those cameras should help reassure the public that police will act appropriately even in tense and trying situations. If they don’t, patrolmen can be held accountable for digitally documented excesses. But the body camera will also help protect them against false accusations.
After a pilot program in 2016, a broader roll-out began last week, when another 200 patrolmen started wearing the cameras. Despite its disagreement with the policy, the BPPA, which represents the BPD’s 1,400 patrol officers, is complying with the directive to wear and use the cameras. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the BPPA wants more money for the mere act of having and using the cameras. The union won’t say how much it has asked for, but others say the request has been for at least a 5 percent increase. After the city refused, the BPPA filed to have the state’s Joint Labor Management Committee, whose role is to help municipalities and public-safety unions resolve differences, take jurisdiction over the dispute.
BPPA President Michael Leary says that other police patrolmen have gotten increases for wearing the cameras. “It’s a real change in working conditions,” he contended, via e-mail.
How? “If one day you don’t have on a camera and the next day you have on a camera, recording possibly everything you do or say, how is it not?” Leary responded. That’s unpersuasive. Assuming a patrolman is conducting him or herself in a professional manner, wearing a body camera shouldn’t require any significant changes.
The Walsh administration says this isn’t properly an issue for the JLMC to consider, and particularly not mid-contract. As they see it, requiring patrolmen to wear cameras falls under management’s right to determine what equipment is necessary to do the job of police officer. That’s a stronger argument than the BPPA’s. This is really no different than using a new communications or records-keeping system. Further, it is a passive part of the job, and as such, hardly something the police need to be paid extra for.
(The administration did offer a $1,000 stipend to encourage volunteers back when the body-cam program was in its pilot stage. But they did so with the specific understanding that the stipend wouldn’t set a legal precedent as far as compensation is concerned.)
If the Boston Police were underpaid, one could better understand the need to push for new dollars at each and every turn. But that’s not the case. Boston Police are well paid — and have ample and oft-availed opportunities to earn extra dollars through overtime and paid details.
Now, none of this is to take away from the good job the Boston Police have done in the new era.
But this attempt to leverage new dollars is untimely and unnecessary. The BPPA’s current contract expires on June 30, 2020. Negotiations for the next contract will probably start sometime this fall. A better strategy for the BPPA would be to roll body-cam credit into those negotiations — even as they wear the body cameras as a visible sign of their commitment to quality policing.