Judge Rules Boston Police Body Camera Pilot Program Can Move Forward

A judge has sided with the city of Boston in the fight over the launch of a police body camera pilot program.

The 19-page ruling, issued Friday by Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins, denies a police union's request for an injunction to halt the program, and gives the pilot the green light to move forward.

Police Commissioner William Evans had previously said the force is ready to begin the body camera pilot program on Monday. After Friday's ruling, both Evans and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said they were "pleased" with the court's decision to allow the program to start.

Wilkins presided over a two-day hearing earlier this week regarding an injunction request by the Boston Police Patrolman's Association (BPPA) to stop the pilot. The union said it supports body cameras but argued the city violated an agreement to do a voluntary pilot program when the police department assigned body cameras to officers.

Evans testified that he had the authority to assign the cameras and did so after no officers volunteered for the program.

In his ruling, Wilkins said the court didn't buy the union's argument that mandating body cameras would put unwilling officers at increased risk. The union's attorney, John Becker, said the cameras could cause people to react negatively to officers wearing them. Becker pointed to a study that found some officers faced increased risk of assault while wearing cameras.

Evans testified that the study was widely denounced. The judge agreed with the city.

"At best, in the court's view, the state of the research is inconclusive, particularly to the implementation of BWCs [body-worn cameras] in Boston," Wilkins wrote in his decision. He also added, "if local conditions matter (as they most likely do), then there is no study suggesting BWCs will likely increase risk to Boston police officers."

In a statement, BPPA president Patrick Rose said he's disappointed in the judge's ruling and still believes asking for the injunction was the right thing to do.

"If we don’t fight to preserve our collective bargaining rights, we could lose those rights," Rose said. "If we don’t challenge the City when they violate signed agreements, then how can we enforce agreements in the future? Let me say this, though: Injunction or no injunction, the BPPA is still committed to working with the City and the Department to make sure the citizens of Boston get a body-worn camera pilot program that does what it is supposed to do, while respecting the rights of citizens and police officers alike."

Evans also expressed a desire for the two parties to work together on the pilot program.

"I remain committed to working with the BPPA and their members to ensure a smooth implementation of the program," Evans said in a statement.

In his decision, Wilkins wrote he sees "no defensible distinction" between decisions regarding uniforms, weapons, duties and assignments and the order to wear body cameras by Evans as part of the standard equipment.

It's an argument that has been made by several activists who say body cameras should be part of an officer's uniform, just like a gun and a badge.

Many of those activists are now applauding the court's decision Friday.

"This is a great moment for police accountability, police transparency and really for civil rights in Boston," said Matthew Segal, the legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "The BPPA had the opportunity here to embrace police accountability, to embrace transparency and really to embrace body cameras because they've been shown to embrace both sides of the badge ... and what they did instead was to run headlong in the other direction."

Segal called the tumult around the voluntary pilot a “self-inflicted wound” on the part of the union.

That sentiment echoes part of Wilkins' ruling. In his decision, the judge said with active efforts from the BPPA to recruit volunteers, there would have been at least 100 volunteers for the program.

“While the court does not agree that the BPPA engaged in misconduct or bad faith … an injunction effectively rewarding the BPPA for its lackluster efforts to ensure the [program’s] implementation would be unjust,” Wilkins wrote in his ruling.

Segun Idowu, the co-organizer of the Boston Police Camera Action Team, said he's pleased with the decision, but remains "cautiously optimistic."

"Until the pilot program begins, we're still holding our breath" Idowu said, adding "the policy is still something that concerns us as well."

The city's body camera policy allows officers to view the footage prior to writing police reports and in some cases before making a statement about an incident. That part of the policy has drawn criticism from activists and community members. Idowu said he is also concerned that there are no consequences outlined for violating the policy.

Ahead of Friday's ruling, Evans announced that members of the department's command staff would also wear body cameras for the duration of the pilot program. However, the commanders won't officially be part of the study group for the pilot program.

Mayor Walsh said he looks forward to the findings of the pilot program.

"The Boston Police Department will continue to be a leader in innovative, community-based policing, and I look forward to seeing the results of the body camera pilot program," Walsh said in a statement.

Rose said he believes the pilot program will highlight "the good work that is done by the members of the BPPA every day to protect and serve" people in Boston.

Many in the community have been waiting for the pilot program for a long time. Local activists have been calling for body cameras since 2014 -- following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

A plan to implement a pilot program in Boston began last fall and has faced several delays as the city negotiated with the union.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this post said the department leaders wearing body cameras will be part of the pilot program. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on September 09, 2016.


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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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