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Boston Police Won't Yet Release Body Camera Footage Of Recent Protests, Citing Ongoing Investigations

A Boston police officer at the protests against police brutality on May 31 is seen wearing a body camera. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A Boston police officer at the protests against police brutality on May 31 is seen wearing a body camera. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The Boston Police Department is refusing to release body camera footage captured during a pair of protests against police brutality in late May, saying that all the video is tied to ongoing investigations.

WBUR requested, via the state's public records law, any body-worn camera footage for two protests: the first, on May 29 in the South End, and another much larger demonstration on May 31.

The second protest was a largely peaceful march from Nubian Square to the State House. But after the protest ended, the night devolved into clashes with police, use of tear gas, burning of police cruisers and theft from stores. At least 53 people were arrested in the hours after the demonstration ended.

The department said all of the footage is "associated with an active and ongoing investigation."

Sgt. Det. John Boyle, the department spokesman, said he did not know how many officers that night were wearing body cameras. He also said he could not confirm precisely how many hours of footage were captured by police, but said the number was in the hundreds.

Boyle said the department is reviewing the footage internally.

Mayor Marty Walsh, when asked whether body camera footage from the protests should be made public, said he'd have to look into the issue.

His office followed up with a statement and suggested the footage could be released after the investigations are complete.

"Less than a year after implementing a body worn camera program at the Boston Police Department, more than 1,000 officers have been trained and equipped with body cameras across districts, including the bike unit and other specialized units," Samantha Ormsby, a mayoral spokeswoman, said in the statement. "Mayor Walsh is fully supportive of body cameras being worn by officers during all shifts, including overtime, and Boston Police are actively working toward that goal."

Boston officers working overtime are not yet required to wear body cameras, despite an assurance from the police department and the mayor in October of 2019 that the issue would be "fixed." The policy is supposed to change, Boyle said, but hasn't yet. Boyle attributed this in part to equipment issues, including problems with maintaining the battery life of cameras over multiple shifts.

The last major protest that Boston police responded to in the fall was the so-called "Straight Pride" parade. Officers responding to the event and large counter-protests worked nearly 9,000 hours of overtime. None of it was captured on body cameras, because they weren't required to wear them.

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Ally is a reporter who champions data and public records in the WBUR newsroom.

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