After vocalizing opposition to the measure originally, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh endorsed looking into the possibility of utilizing a body camera program for the Boston Police Department, a conversation that is ongoing after the recent killings of unarmed black men.
The program, which U.S. President Barack Obama is urging city police departments to start in order to create a sense of trust in the police force, was at first criticized by Walsh after Obama made the announcement on Dec. 1.
“I’m not going to be distracted by having a conversation about whether or not police have body cameras,” Walsh told The Boston Globe after the meeting where Obama made the announcement. “We have to have a lot more discussion around race and racial issues. It’s not one that people want to have and people would rather forget about, but we’re not going to forget about it in Boston. I made a commitment to have that conversation, and we’re going to have it.”
However, Walsh, in a change of mind, endorsed the idea of a pilot program for body cameras on police on Dec. 4 in an interview with the editorial board of the Globe.
Walsh believes there are more pressing issues that should be tackled than just implementing a body camera program, said Melina Schuler, spokeswoman for the City of Boston.
“Mayor Walsh recognizes the value of police body cameras, but sees that there are issues that run deeper that need to be addressed that technology can’t fix,” Schuler said in an email.
Schuler said Boston is striving to strengthen police relationships with the community.
The value of the police body cameras is being recognized nationwide and has also received increased attention from the Massachusetts State Police. David Procopio, spokesman for the MSP, said with time, most police departments will adopt body cameras.
“Many times, members of the public may make accusations against officers,” he said. “If the police officer is doing his or her job properly — not using excessive force and not using vulgarity — the camera is going to protect the police officer in that case. It ultimately will be beneficial both ways.”
TASER International, Inc. is a security equipment company focused on manufacturing devices designed for use in law enforcement, such as body cameras. TASER has sold over 30,000 cameras since 2009 to more than 1,200 different police departments nationwide, said Steve Tuttle, TASER’s vice president of strategic communications.
“They [body cameras] have become game-changing technology,” he said. “These cameras work. They can change behavior on both sides of the badge.”
Body cameras are the size of a small iPhone and connect to a small Digital Video Recorder about the size of a lipstick tube. The DVR can then be attached to a collar or hat, Tuttle said.
Rialto Police Department in San Bernardino County, California is one of TASER’s most successful clients, he said.
“They [Rialto] had an 88 percent drop in complaints and a 59 percent drop in use of force,” he said. “It’s truly the next paradigm shift for law enforcement — to be wearing body cams.”
However, despite the success in certain areas, Procopio said some law enforcement is not yet ready for this shift to happen.
“It is going to take some time to work out the logistics that have to be addressed before they [body cameras] can be used in a widespread manner and before some of these benefits start being realized,” he said.
Those logistics include the cost of implementing a body camera program, Procopio said.
“I know the president has proclaimed that he is setting aside a certain amount of money that will be distributed to cities and towns, and that’s probably a good start, but there’s so many more costs that are going to arise from this,” he said.
One of the costs would include dealing with the creation of new public records that have never been created in the past, “the public record being the video of the interaction itself,” Procopio said.
“We would anticipate that there’s going to be a huge demand for public records of the camera footage, and it’s going to be a cost to police departments to respond to those [requests] properly,” he said. “You would probably need to hire more lawyers or at least some sort of administrators to handle this influx of public records requests that we would anticipate.”
Even with the logistics figured out, Procopio said the cameras will not replace the ethics and morals the police are expected to uphold.
“Ultimately, [body cameras] will be beneficial in addition to police officer’s gear. It’s a tool to record an interaction, with a completely accurate snapshot of an interaction,” he said. “It will not replace face-to-face contact, community outreach and some of the trust building that we strive to do with members of the public. That’s all what comes first.”
Several residents said body cameras are essential for a police force, but not necessarily in Boston.
Abubakr Fakhry, 27, of Fenway, said the cameras would prevent incidences of police brutality.
“They [body cameras] are necessary,” he said. “After everything that happened in New York [with the death of Eric Garner by a chokehold from a police officer], this will keep everyone on the safe side as long as people know that there’s a camera. There would not be any more public issues of policemen taking advantage of their positions, especially when there aren’t a lot of people around.”
Jason Simmons, 22, of Kenmore, said body cameras are not necessary in Boston.
“In Boston, I say no because overall, it’s a very safe city,” he said. “In general, they [body cameras] could definitely have a ton of benefit. There is a lot of crime out there and brutality by police officers, so by having them, they could definitely cut down on that.”
Megan Day, 25, of East Boston, said the justice system needs help before body cameras could have any effect at all.
“With Eric Garner, it’s on video — the police were choking him. That didn’t do [expletive],” she said. “They still didn’t indict the cop. It’s fixed. It’s rigged. So I guess on that subject no, I don’t think they [body cameras] are necessary. It’s a fixed system, anyway.”