The ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston Branch of the NAACP, and Boston Police Camera Action Team (BPCAT) applaud the City of Boston and the Boston Police Department on the announcement of the Department's policy governing its voluntary body-worn camera pilot program, which reflects community input and key aspects of the "Do It Right" model policy for body-worn cameras, developed by ACLU and BPCAT, with input from the Boston NAACP.
"This pilot policy is a great first step by the City of Boston and the BPD toward a body-worn camera program that ensures police accountability, real transparency, and civilian privacy," said Matthew Segal, Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "We urge the BPD to meaningfully implement this policy and move quickly toward a full, mandatory body-worn camera program that applies to all non-undercover officers and adds key protections from our 'Do It Right' model policy." Boston lags behind comparable American cities, most of which have already moved ahead with body-worn camera use.
"We appreciate this step forward by both the City of Boston and the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association (BPPA) in advancing a long overdue body-camera pilot," said attorney Michael Curry, Boston NAACP President. "However, we are still concerned that too many sound conflicted over its usefulness and benefit to both law enforcement and citizens. The data is clear, and communities are demanding this level of transparency going forward. We're now asking the City of Boston to move with a sense of urgency toward full adoption by 2018."
"We commend Mayor Walsh and Commissioner Evans on their new effort to bring body cameras to Boston," said Segun Idowu, Co-Organizer of BPCAT. "We are encouraged by the fact that a majority of the proposed policy from Commissioner William Evans mirrors the proposed community policies of the Boston Police Camera Action Team and the ACLU of Massachusetts. We look forward to the open, fair, and transparent process of revising the policy prior to the pilot program beginning, keeping in line with the wishes of Boston residents and City Councilor Andrea Campbell to put the BPD's draft policy through a community process once released."
Responding to powerful revelations that the Boston Police Department has treated people and communities of color more harshly than otherwise identical white people and white communities, the ACLU and community partners have long urged the BPD and other Massachusetts police departments to require police officers to wear body-worn cameras. The Boston Police Camera Action Team, the Boston Branch of the NAACP, and others led efforts to demand transparency and public participation in the development of the BPD policy.
Key aspects of the groups' model policy reflected in the BPD policy include:
- mandatory camera activation for most potentially adversarial encounters with civilians;
- privacy protections for civilians in homes or other sensitive situations;
- a ban on using cameras to record civilians "based solely upon the civilian's political or religious beliefs or upon the exercise of the civilians' First Amendment rights"; and
- a statement that BWCs will not include biometric capabilities, such as facial recognition.
Key shortcomings in the BPD policy include:
(1) officer participation is voluntary;
(2) officers will be not only permitted but encouraged to view BWC footage before preparing reports or responding to internal affairs investigations; and
(3) officer discretion to deactivate cameras seems unduly broad.
"Body-worn cameras only work when they are mandatory, since a purely voluntary program fails to address problem officers and could amount to little more than an equipment test," said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "We will therefore remain vigilant and seek to ensure that the BPD's body-camera program really works to enhance police accountability and build trust with the people of Boston."
"There is truly a lot to like in this pilot policy, but one cause for concern is its encouragement of officers to review body-camera footage before writing incident reports or responding to internal affairs investigations," said Segal of the ACLU. "This encouragement can make it impossible for anyone to know what the officer actually saw--as opposed to what the camera saw--and can even enable officers to change their version of events based on what was or wasn't captured on camera. Officers should be permitted to review the video only after writing their initial reports, just as civilians are typically not permitted to view video before being interviewed by the police. The touchstone here, as in all aspects of body-camera programs, is ensuring police accountability and public trust."
The Police Executive Research Forum shares this concern with allowing officers to review body-camera footage, as detailed in this Washington Post coverage.
"This announcement shows the benefits of public participation in the development of public policy," said Carl Williams, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. "Community leaders, civil rights advocates, and academics all contributed to the public conversation. Specifically we would like to thank the Boston Police Camera Action Team, the Boston Branch of the NAACP, the Black Law Students Association at Harvard Law, and Digital Fourth for their work. Working with the community is part and parcel of what it means to 'Do it Right.'"
For documentation of disparate treatment of people of color in Boston, see:
"An Analysis of Race and Ethnicity Patterns in Boston Police Department Field Interrogation, Observation, Frisk, and/or Search Reports"
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