Halfway Through Program, Boston Police Provide Update On Body Camera Pilot

The Boston Police Department's body-worn camera pilot program is scheduled to last six months. 100 officers have been assigned cameras. (Damian Dovarganes/AP File)
The Boston Police Department's body-worn camera pilot program is scheduled to last six months. 100 officers have been assigned cameras. (Damian Dovarganes/AP File)

Halfway into a six-month test of body-worn cameras, Boston police say the 100 officers assigned the cameras have generated over 10,000 unique videos representing nearly 1,500 hours of footage.

They have also documented 72 camera recording failures, department spokesman Michael McCarthy told The Associated Press late Friday afternoon. He attributed them to technical malfunctions such as insufficient battery life, or cameras falling off their mounts or shutting off without explanation.

There have been no complaints or misconduct investigations related to use of the cameras, McCarthy said, and the department has so far spent nearly $85,000 on the pilot.

The 10,422 videos captured so far amount to 1,472 hours and 1.6 terabytes of data, he said. The pilot has been averaging 114 videos a day, with videos averaging about 8.5 minutes.

McCarthy provided the updates after requests by the AP for complaints, investigations, audits, budgets and other documents related to the program went largely unanswered over the past month.

He didn't provide copies of documents like the program budget or audit reports, as the AP had requested. He also didn't immediately say how usage or malfunctioning data compared to the department's expectations going into the test.

Civil rights groups this week had voiced concerns about transparency as the pilot effort reached its halfway mark. And a study intended to assess the six-month pilot, launched Sept. 12, has not been fully funded and not begun in earnest, researchers told the AP this week.

Jack McDevitt, director of Northeastern University's Institute on Race and Justice, which has signed on to conduct the study, said his team still has not secured all the money needed for the work.

The study isn't being paid by the university or the city, which has budgeted about $500,000 for the body camera pilot effort.

The team has so far received $34,900 from police and another $10,000 from the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, fellow Northeastern researcher Anthony Braga said Friday in an email. An application for foundational funding was rejected, he said.

Michael Curry, outgoing president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, said the city should have found other ways to pay for the study, which police said was a critical piece as they weigh a department-wide rollout of the cameras.

"The clear sign when someone is not committed to doing something is when they come up with too many excuses," he said.

If and when Northeastern receives full funding, McDevitt said, the plan is to review citizen complaints and department data on officer activity and workload. Researchers will also compare the costs for the two types of cameras being tested and host focus groups with officers and community organizations.

Most large and mid-size cities with some form of a body camera program haven't been forthcoming once their programs are underway, said Harlan Yu, a principal at Upturn, a consulting firm working with civil rights groups to study police body camera programs.

One exception is Washington, D.C., where the law requires police to release a report twice a year about body camera usage, he said.

Boston community leaders say they've heard few complaints or problems so far from residents or officers. But the shooting by police of an emotionally disturbed man in October underscores the need for wider use of body cameras, they say.

None of the officers involved in that shooting, which prosecutors are reviewing, had been assigned a body camera.

Police maintain 31-year-old Terrence Coleman was shot after lunging at them and emergency medical technicians with a knife. But Coleman's mother, who had called for the assistance, says her son was unarmed when police burst through the door and shot him.

"There are such divergent versions of the incident," said Darnell Williams, of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. "We should not be in the position to have to choose between what a mother is saying and what police and EMTs are saying."



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