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Police Reach Union Agreement Amid Renewed Calls For Body Cams In Boston

After recent police shootings, activists in Boston say they want police to move more quickly in implementing a body camera pilot program. Pictured: A body camera on an officer in Whitestown, Indiana. (Darron Cummings/AP)
After recent police shootings, activists in Boston say they want police to move more quickly in implementing a body camera pilot program. Pictured: A body camera on an officer in Whitestown, Indiana. (Darron Cummings/AP)

The city announced Tuesday evening that they had come to an agreement with a police union, bringing Boston one step closer to implementing a body camera pilot program. This comes after renewed calls by local activists in recent days following the high-profile police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana.

The police department reached an agreement with the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association (BPPA) to equip up to 100 patrol officers with cameras for a six-month pilot, but there is still no timeline for when it will launch.

Participation in the program would be voluntary, which has been a point of criticism from many who have been pushing for body cameras. And according to the agreement, officers who do participate in the program will receive $500 compensation at the completion of the program.

"The BPPA believes that a pilot program will enable the Department and the Union to evaluate whether body cameras contribute to officer safety, provide useful evidence for criminal prosecutions and help to foster positive relations with the citizens of and visitors to the City of Boston," BPPA president Patrick M. Rose said in a statement.

The agreement also offers parameters for viewing the body camera footage: Officers involved in a shooting or other use of deadly force cannot view the footage before an investigations unit has done so. Involved officers and officers who are witnesses can then view their own footage prior to giving a statement or walkthrough. An investigations unit will be responsible for collecting and uploading all body cam footage. In other instances, officers can view their own footage when they are completing an investigation, before a court appearance "to refresh recollection," and when giving a statement regarding an internal investigation.

And, according to the agreement, the Boston Police Department would reopen negotiations with the union if they decide to expand the use of body cameras after the pilot program is complete.

Boston police will now work to identify officers that will participate in the pilot program.

Tuesday's agreement is a step toward launching the program, but a final policy for the pilot still needs to be developed. The city says that policy is currently being worked on.

Some say the police department has been moving too slowly.

"It’s been almost a year now and the commissioner and his team have nothing to show for it," Segun Idowu, the co-organizer of the community group Boston Police Camera Action Team (BPCAT), told WBUR last week. "But what we’ve heard is, 'go slow' and 'wait,' and those [words] unfortunately just aren’t good enough for us."

Last September, the Boston Police Department said it would launch a body camera pilot program. Then in April, Boston police offered a few more details, saying it would equip 100 officers across the city with body cameras as part of a six-month pilot program set to begin in July.

Now, almost halfway through the month, it is unclear exactly when the body camera pilot program will get off the ground.

When asked at the end of last week what was holding up the program, police said they were still working out details with various unions.

There are also a number of policy issues to consider when it comes to body cameras, such as when the cameras will be turned on and off, how the video will be stored, as well as how to handle various privacy concerns when interacting with the public. On Saturday, Mayor Marty Walsh said these are among the issues the city is looking at as it develops its pilot program.

"We’re laying the foundation down," Walsh said outside a community event in Roxbury. "It's not just simply going out and buying a camera and putting it on a police officer. There's a process that's taking place."

Walsh said body cameras are coming to Boston in the "near future," but said he had no timeline for exactly when.

Police Commissioner Bill Evans told WGBH Tuesday that he hopes the pilot program will begin in August. He also said he would like to see body cameras become permanent after the program.

BPCAT is demanding that process move more swiftly.

"For the Boston Police Camera Action Team, it took us three months to review existing policies and procedures of how the cameras are used to come up with our own policy, using those that we saw from around the country but also the White House recommendations," Idowu said.

BPCAT formed in 2014 after the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and since then has been pushing for body cameras in Boston. Idowu said his organization wants to be proactive and not wait until similar incidents happen in Boston.

On Monday, the Boston chapter of the NAACP also renewed calls for the city to roll out body cameras. Michael Curry, the chapter's president, said Boston needs to lead on the issue of body cameras, which he said provides "a two-way benefit."

"Across the nation it’s inevitable that we get to body cams," Curry told WBUR Monday. "The technology is here. It gives us some confidence that what the officer said what happened is what actually happened. It gives the officer some protections if they feel that what they did is being distorted or misrepresented."

And some see this technology as an important part of addressing police-community relations. Idowu said while body cameras are "a smaller piece of the larger puzzle," they are a necessary step in tackling issues of accountability and policing.

This article was originally published on July 12, 2016.


Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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