Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Body cameras for Massachusetts State Police are past due

More than a little late to the game, the Massachusetts State Police is planning to implement a pilot body camera system early next year, testing out a system that has gained popularity alongside national attention to police brutality.

The police force will also install vehicle locators in police cruisers after multiple scandals have occurred in the department, according to MassLive.  

It’s too late for Massachusetts to say it’s piloting a groundbreaking program. It’s too late for the state police to gas themselves up and expect praise. The fact that they’re still pushing this off further than Gov. Charlie Baker has been asking is a sign that they’re simply reluctant to go through with it.

The state police has been involved, in the past year, in a series of overtime abuse scandals — troopers have been paid for overtime shifts they didn’t work. Considering that these people who are entrusted with protecting the safety of Massachusetts citizens have been abusing taxpayer money, it’s time that we put a tighter watch on officers, and installing locators in cruisers could help with that.

But something like an overtime scandal is a bureaucratic issue that won’t be fixed by body cameras. They might be useful in building trust between communities and officers, but the state police shouldn’t promote this new program as a way to fix the overtime scandal.

Above all else, it’s surprising that these systems haven’t already been in place. Pizza delivery cars are subject to tracking — why aren’t Massachusetts’ police cruisers? It’s remarkable how much police officers are able to get away with on the basis that these kinds of technology are unnecessary, that officers are necessarily moral people.

In September 2017, the Boston Police Department ran a body camera pilot, choosing 100 officers in police districts across the city to wear body cameras during their shifts.

Researchers at Northeastern University reviewed data from the pilot and found that officers wearing cameras received fewer citizen complaints and fewer “use of force” reports, according to WBUR.

The implementation of these cameras in cities around the country has proven that they do, in fact, keep officers in check. Officers wearing cameras are more mindful of the fact that their actions are subject to potential review, and whether or not this addresses the root problem of how they think, it clearly changes how they act.  

But we need to know more about how these cameras will be implemented before we can say that they’ll fix everything. Will the cops be able to turn them off? Will they be recording at all times? Will footage be analyzed internally, and how easily will it be released to the public and journalists? Having footage is one thing, and being willing to release it is another.

The state police shouldn’t have waited until its reputation was damaged by numerous scandals to take action holding its officers to accountability. If they want to restore trust now, if they want to build a new trust in communities where police have historically abused their power and brutalized communities of color, they’ll need to prove they have systems in place to prevent future abuses from occurring.

Too often people have to Facebook Live themselves getting arrested to expose police corruption, when it should be on police departments themselves to check the power of their employees.

Holding police officers to account with body cameras shouldn’t have to be a political statement. If officers are on the job, the work they do should be subject to review like any other employee working in retail could be reviewed on security footage. Officers have a lot of power over everyday people, and it’s been proven time and time again that this power is extremely easy to abuse.  

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