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Boston Police To Launch Body Camera Pilot Program

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, in his office (Jesse Costa/WBUR)closemore
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, in his office (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Police officers in Boston could be equipped with body cameras within the next couple of months as part of a pilot program, according to Boston Police Commissioner William Evans.

"We have several vendors coming in within the next couple days to look at them," Evans said on WGBH's "Greater Boston" Tuesday night. "I’m working with our legal staff to look at the policies across the country. I’m working with the unions ... so it’s coming here."

Police body cameras have been a major topic of conversation across the country over the last year, in the wake of Ferguson and other high profile cases where unarmed black men were killed by police. The incidents have sparked rallies and protests and larger conversations around police-community relations.

Other cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, D.C. — have already launched body camera pilot programs. In Massachusetts, a few cities are testing them out, including Worcester, Springfield, Methuen, Abington and Gill. And just last month, Lowell police said they are considering a body camera pilot program. Meanwhile, State Police are also looking into body cameras.

Many believe body cameras will provide greater transparency, help allay distrust between police and the public, and help resolve conflicting accounts of police encounters. But the new technology also raises issues of costs, privacy, data storage and logistics. Last September, the U.S. Department of Justice touched on these issues in a report that gave guidelines for law enforcement agencies considering body cameras.

Evans said body cameras are "not an easy overnight fix" and the department will look into privacy issues, staffing and costs associated with the technology. But the commissioner said he hopes to see the first body cameras on Boston police officers "within the next couple of months."

Local activists, city officials and others have been raising the issue of bringing body cameras to Boston since last year.

Last October, the ACLU recommended the use of body cameras after a report found blacks were disproportionately stopped by Boston officers. And last month, the Boston City Council took up the issue after Councilor Charles Yancey proposed an ordinance to equip officers with body cameras.

Shekia Scott, of the Boston Police Camera Action Team, which crafted Yancey's proposal, previously told WBUR that body cameras would "provide a more objective platform for protection and accountability on both sides."

Also last month, state Senate President Stan Rosenberg said he wants to create a grant program to help local police departments try body cameras.

The Boston Police Department and Mayor Marty Walsh have previously said they are open to body cameras, but also said they were focused on community relations.

Boston Police spokesman Lt. Michael McCarthy last month said community outreach made more of an impact than “attaching a piece of equipment on a uniform.”

“Putting a piece of equipment on the lapel of a uniform is not community policing … and that’s something we’re very good at unlike most cities in the country,” McCarthy said. “We see that as a stronger force to be behind as opposed to equipment that may or may not assist in building trust with the community.”

Evans told Radio Boston last month that he and the mayor were looking into the feasibility of a pilot program, but he was focused on building trust with the community.

Meanwhile, Walsh said previously he sees body cameras as one aspect of policing that doesn't address underlying community issues.

In a statement Wednesday, the mayor's spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin reiterated this and said Walsh believes body cameras could be "a valuable investment in our police force."

"Body cameras are only one tool in police work, and do not address the fundamental problems of inequity in our communities," McGilpin said. "Mayor Walsh's main focus is to address these inequities and to continue to build strong community relationships and enhance trust between police officers and residents."

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Digital Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a digital reporter at WBUR, covering all things relevant to people in Greater Boston.

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