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Walsh extends police body camera pilot program for six months

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh extended the police body camera pilot program Monday. PHOTO BY JINGYI LIN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced a six-month extension of the Body Worn Camera Pilot Program on Monday, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

The program, now scheduled to end on Sept. 11, equips up to 100 Boston Police Department officers with body cameras to wear while they are on duty, according to the release.

Walsh granted the extension in order to allow for the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association to collect sufficient evidence and analyze it to determine the effectiveness of the cameras, according to the release.

Walsh praised Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, the BPD and the BPPA for their willingness to improve the city’s police force through the pilot program.

“This extension is a positive development and I look forward to continuing to build on the success of this pilot program,” Walsh said in the release. “We are fortunate to have one of the best police forces in the country and our officers work hand in hand with the community to make all neighborhoods safer.”

Carl Williams, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said he is in support of the program.

“I think it changes people’s interactions [with the police],” Williams said. “It is also a statement that says that we’re concerned about police misconduct and the potential for police violence.”

Williams said he is apprehensive about the lack of information that has been publicized about the program and the data that has been collected, calling for greater government transparency.

“I have a desire, as part of this organization and personally, that I would like to know [what is going on with the program],” Williams said. “Secondly, that is public information … and it needs to be made public.”

Other proponents of body cameras said the city is simply stalling the processes of implementing the program permanently.

Segun Idowu, a co-organizer of the Boston Police Camera Action Team, which has been conducting community forums on the issue to gauge public opinion on the topic, said he believes the city has ulterior motives in putting off the final analysis of body cameras on Boston police.

“It’s not lost on us that this decision is made during an election year,” Idowu said. “I firmly believe that if this were an off-election year, that we would already have a body camera program, a full program, and that we wouldn’t see all that stalling on behalf of the administration at City Hall.”

Idowu said the majority of people they interviewed were in favor of body cameras, including some police officers, who chose to speak off the record because of union pressure.

“I was talking to one officer that said he wanted the cameras so that we, the civilians, would see how other people treat them,” Idowu said. “They feel as if they aren’t doing anything wrong and that civilians are the ones that come off aggressive and they do their best to handle the situation professionally. So, [people] want these cameras, even if it’s for different reasons.”

Several Boston residents said they supported the pilot program, but wanted to know more about the extension and the data collected.

Sarah Andrus, 27, of Jamaica Plain, said she would like to see a more trusting relationship between the people and the police.

“Putting body cameras on police officers is probably a good thing if we think there is sketchy stuff going on,” Andrus said. “But, if they don’t give a reason why they’re doing the extension, that’s also sketchy in and of itself.”

Daniel Obrien, 39, of South End, said greater transparency in the program would ease people’s mistrust.

“I think they should release what they have, just so people can get an idea of how it [the program] works,” Obrien said. “People will be more trusting of the police if they come out with more information.”

Lauren Zaniboni, 27, of South Boston, said she wants to know what the police think of the program.

“I would definitely like to know more about the details,” Zaniboni said. “I’d like to know what the cops think about it, if they think it’s helpful or harmful.”

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