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City, Police Union Square Off In Court Over Body Camera Pilot

A plan to equip 100 Boston police officers with body cameras is now before a judge.

The city and the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association began presenting arguments Tuesday to Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins regarding the launch of a long-awaited police body camera pilot program. The hearing will continue Wednesday morning.

The pilot program was supposed to start at the beginning of this month, but has been delayed after the union filed an injunction to stop the program. Last week, the police department said both parties agreed to push the start date to Sept. 12, though the union's attorney denies agreeing to that date.

In court Tuesday, the police union argued that the city of Boston violated an agreement by assigning body cameras when the program was supposed to be voluntary. The union wants Judge Wilkins to stop the program from going forward so the parties can either go through a collectively bargained arbitration process or negotiate a new deal.

"Had the parties anticipated that there would be an issue with volunteers, they would have instituted a mechanism to get volunteers," police union attorney Susan Horwitz told the court. "We’re asking for a short delay. We think weeks would be reasonable."

The city, which wants the judge to deny the injunction, argues that it was in the public interest to move forward with the pilot program after no officers volunteered.

"It is, we believe, in the interest of the public, for transparency and accountability, that we begin a pilot program to see whether or not this is a program that can work in Boston," the city's attorney Kay Hodge told the judge.

Further, the city said the police union did not take action to support the body camera pilot program.

"We believe the union is here today with unclean hands," Hodge said.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans testified Tuesday that he got the feeling from some officers that they were told not to volunteer.

"I’ve never seen an active letter really encouraging union members to step up," Evans said. He also said he had the power to assign the cameras. "I think it’s my lawful authority as the police commissioner to assign [body cameras]."

Patrick Rose, the president of the patrolmen's association, also testified Tuesday. He said once an agreement was reached in July, he put out a memo to union members expressing his support of the program. When pressed on cross examination by Hodge about whether the union encouraged officers to volunteer for the pilot, Rose said, "I have never not supported the camera program."

He said the union wanted the voluntary program to work, and had only expressed prior to July that officers not volunteer if there was no agreement reached with the city.

"We have never been against the program," Rose said. "We were against people in June volunteering for the program because the city unilaterally, at that time, threatened to implement the program."

The city and the police union spent months negotiating a deal to implement a body camera program, which has been planned since last September. They reached an agreement in July to do a voluntary program. But when no officers volunteered to wear the cameras, the police department assigned cameras and began training officers. That was in mid-August. The union then requested an injunction to halt the pilot program.

The injunction has frustrated many activists, who have long been calling for Boston to implement of body camera pilot program.

"I think the clear issue here is one of accountability and ... having a police department that, in its word, says we’re grounded in community policing and then having not a single officer, not one volunteer, for a program of body-worn cameras is troubling," said Carl Williams, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts, after Tuesday's hearing.

Williams said officers should wear body cameras just like they wear a gun and a badge.

The ACLU of Massachusetts filed a brief Tuesday afternoon opposing the police union's request to halt the body camera program.

Segun Idowu of the Boston Police Camera Action Team (BPCAT), which joined the ACLU in its filing, said union leadership should have led by example and volunteered for the pilot program.

"If [Rose] put out all this communication saying that he supports this program and yet no one stands up to volunteer for it then what kind of leader are you is what I want to know," Idowu said after Tuesday's hearing. "At the same time, he also said he is a patrol officer himself, so I say why didn't you step up and be the first to volunteer. Leaders, they lead."

When asked on the stand during Tuesday's hearing why he thought there were no volunteers, Rose said the timing of the pilot program was "horrible."

"We talked about this for almost 18 months and the city decides to release it on the heels of eight officers being murdered in the country," Rose said, referring to the fatal shootings of five Dallas officers and three officers in Baton Rouge. "Quite frankly police are nervous too, and they were concerned about equipment."

Rose also took issue with the city's assertion that no officers volunteered. He said he heard of one officer in District 2 that volunteered, but said he couldn't recall the officer's name while on the stand. Rose also said he knew of another officer in District 11 that volunteered, but later withdrew.

"There was not zero volunteers ... there were a couple of volunteers," Rose testified. "I know that does not change the fact that there weren’t 100 volunteers."

The parties return to court 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Digital Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a digital reporter, covering a range of news. She also covers tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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