Boston City Council Considers Proposal To Equip Police With Body Cameras

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In this 2014 file photo, a Los Angeles Police officer wears an on-body camera during a demonstration for media. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
In this 2014 file photo, a Los Angeles Police officer wears an on-body camera during a demonstration for media. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

The Boston City Council is considering a new ordinance to equip police officers with body video cameras. On Wednesday, at the first of what's expected to be several hearings on the issue, the councilors heard opinions on the controversial proposal.

Councilor Charles Yancey, who introduced the proposed ordinance, said at Wednesday night's packed hearing that the use of body cameras will increase trust and transparency between police and the public.

"A lot is at stake, because we cannot have a safe community if we do not have a police department that respects the community and a community that respects the police," he said.

As many as 30 percent of the nation's 17,000 police agencies already use body cameras, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We should be a leader on this," said Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said at the hearing. "We are the hub of innovation. We are Boston Strong."

As WBUR previously reported, the ACLU recommended the use of body cameras after a report found blacks were disproportionately stopped by Boston officers.

"We have the information, we have the evidence to act, we don't have to wait for another killing to do the right thing," Rose continued.

Segun Idowu of Mattapan agrees. He's with the Boston Police Camera Action team and helped draft the proposal.

"What we are presenting here today is not the solution, but it is a solution," Idowu said. "Part of the larger set of measures that this council should consider in eradicating the continued bias and lack of trust that we experience in this city every day."

Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans said at the hearing he's studied the body camera issue extensively, and he and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh are keeping an open mind about implementing the technology.

"We're open to the idea of giving it a try," Evans said. "We just want to get it right when we do it."

Evans, who also spoke with Radio Boston about the issue, says he and the mayor are looking into the feasibility of a pilot program. But, the police commissioner says his focus now is on building trust with city residents.

Evans is concerned body cameras could undermine that effort by discouraging people from coming forward with information about crime if they think they're being recorded.

"A device on someone's lapel is not going to solve the historical relationship between the African-American community and the police," he said Wednesday night.

It's estimated that it will cost $2.5 million to purchase the cameras for the city's 2,000-plus police officers and about the same amount each year to operate the video data system.

But, city councilors were told that over the past decade the city has paid over $38 million to settle lawsuits in cases stemming from complaints again police. Lawsuits that some attending Wednesday's City Council hearing say could have been avoided with the use of body cameras.

This segment aired on August 6, 2015.


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Delores Handy Reporter
Delores Handy was formerly a host and reporter at WBUR.



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