It was slow in coming, but it appears that Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner William Evans are finally convinced that a department-wide body-worn camera program is a good idea.
After years of equivocating, Walsh last month committed to fully funding a body camera program for all officers, once a comprehensive study is finalized this summer on the previous one-year body camera pilot program. Boston police officials indicated that the force could be outfitted with the devices by the end of the year.
The new policy represents a big step forward in public safety. But what comes next is critical to ensure the success of body cams in Boston: The right policies have to go along with a permanent citywide program. The Boston Police Department needs clear rules about how the body cams are operated, and how the footage is used.
Consider the latest high-profile national case involving excessive force by police. Stephon Clark was fatally shot in his own backyard by two Sacramento police officers last week when they mistook an iPhone he had in his hand for a gun. The shooting was captured on body cameras worn by the officers. But, according to reports, they were instructed to mute their cameras merely minutes after the shooting.
Once every Boston police officer has to wear a camera, the city must make it clear when the cameras must be activated, and what disciplinary actions will result from misusing the devices. The latter is the single policy recommendation that the Boston Police Camera Action Team, an advocacy group, points to as a must-do when a program is rolled out department-wide.
“We have seen throughout the nation that without explicit consequences, officers get away with mistreatment (or) misuse of the device, which defeats the whole purpose of having the camera to begin with,” said Segun Idowu, co-organizer at BPCAT.
Other key policy considerations involve access to the video footage produced by the body cams.
Already there’s proof that the presence of body cameras not only brings transparency to police-civilian interactions, but is also shining a light on our criminal justice system and making it more equitable.