September 13, 2016
You might not notice it immediately, but Boston police officers have finally begun wearing body cameras. In a civil rights breakthrough for our city and the whole Commonwealth, a judge last week ruled that the Boston Police Department's pilot program for body-worn cameras should proceed.

That's good news for civil rights and police accountability.

We are all better off with the addition of these devices on the uniforms of the officers who patrol our streets. Body-worn cameras (BWCs) have already been shown to provide greater accountability in cities that have deployed them, including New York, Philadelphia, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle and most of the rest of the 25 largest cities in the country (as well as Gill and Methuen, which have helped to lead the way in Massachusetts).

We are better off because of testimony from Commissioner William Evans, publicly acknowledging the need for greater accountability in the Boston Police department. As the Commissioner said in court last week:

"Heaven forbid our officers get involved in a shooting and we don't have video footage....We are one incident away from what happened in other cities....This [wearing body cameras] is something that is coming to every police department."

We are better off thanks to strong leadership shown by a group of new young leaders, who have consistently—over two years—taken up the mantle for greater police accountability. Of note, the emergence of the Boston Police Camera Action Team (BPCAT) is a great sign of this city's potential to build a strong civil society, in which the police are responsive to the people they are hired to serve and protect.

The ACLU of Massachusetts proudly partnered with BPCAT, the NAACP, the Black Law Students Association at Harvard, and community leaders to develop a Do it Right campaign for the use of body-worn cameras. Together, we designed a model policy that reflects best protections for privacy and due process. Together, we testified at city council hearings. Most importantly, we listened and heard from the people at community meetings.

Our “Do It Right” campaign continues. Looking ahead, the ACLU agrees with BPCAT's three-part prescription for body-worn cameras: (1) they must be mandatory for all officers, not just those in the pilot program that launched this week; (2) officers who refuse to comply must face consequences; and (3) officers should not be permitted to pre-screen videos before writing their reports.

At the same time, video footage taken by you—passersby—remains key to ensuring police accountability, as Commissioner Evans himself testified.

We must remain vigilant when building constructive police-community relations. But the launch of a body-worn camera pilot program is a giant step toward doing it right, proving once again that Boston and cities throughout the Commonwealth are better off when they use technology in the service of liberty.
Rahsaan Hall is the director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts. Carol Rose is the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.