By all accounts, the City of Boston should be proud of the relationship between its men and women in blue and the community. Police Commissioner William Evans, a consummate professional, not only “gets it,” but he authentically cares about Boston residents and the department that serves them. Polls reinforce this assessment with consistently high approval ratings of the BPD, even among minority residents. That’s why the decision of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA) to sue Evans over a pilot body camera program is so distressing.
Discussion of body cameras has been going on for more than a year in Boston. The union agreed to a pilot program with officers volunteering to participate. But, when the pilot was announced, do you know how many police stepped forward? None. And the union recommended against officers volunteering. So the Commissioner took the next logical step. He tapped 100 officers and 25 alternates from five districts to participate for a six-month period. And the BPPA is in court to stop it. This is outrageous.
Body cameras are now in use across the country. The idea is to increase police accountability and transparency and reduce tensions in cities experiencing especially violent confrontations and disproportionate use of force. Some research indicates that body cameras can “cool down” confrontations for both police and suspects. A Rialto, California study showed use of force by police reduced by 59 percent and complaints about police cut by 87 percent. Communities using body cameras have also found that police charged with excessive use of force are sometimes exonerated based on the availability of the video.
Questions still must be resolved about when the cameras should be on and off, how long the video should be stored, whether the police should be able to see the video in writing their incident reports, what the impact may be on the willingness of witnesses to step forward. These are all legitimate issues, but isn’t that why they call it a pilot program?
Clearly, the police force in Boston is better than the union representing it. The union should stand down.
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