Boston Police Finally Forced To Put On Body Cams

After months of delays, a court has ordered Boston's finest to participate in a body camera pilot project.

BPD Chief William Gross shows off his new body camera. — BPD News
Sep 14, 2016 at 1:33 PM ET

It took several months, tense union negotiations, and a last-minute hearing in front of a judge, but Boston Police Department’s body camera pilot program has begun.

Until now, Boston was one of the largest police forces not to have a program in place or in the pilot stage. Two years ago, Commissioner William Evans argued that the cameras wouldn’t fix any problems between the police and the people they serve. But a year later, he announced that a pilot program was in the works. It took months for the city and the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the union that represents officers, to agree how it should be done, but in July 2016 they had a deal: 100 officers would volunteer to wear the cameras for six months, and be given a stipend of $500. In a twist that the city apparently did not foresee, no officers whatsoever volunteered. And in yet another surprise that the BPPA apparently did not foresee, the city said it was going to force 100 officers to wear them anyway. The union filed suit to stop this, saying it violated their agreement.

More Boston Police Continue Their Fight Against Body Cameras

Last week, Judge Douglas Wilkins heard both sides’ arguments and ruled in favor of the city. Wilkins said that the BPPA didn’t make enough of an effort to recruit volunteers, as demonstrated by the fact that there weren’t any of them. For this reason, Wilkins said, the BPPA’s “alleged injury is, in significant part, self-inflicted.” So, he reasoned, it would be “particularly unfair” to punish the city for something that was largely the BPPA’s fault. Strike one!

Wilkins also turned the BPPA’s own argument on its head: The union pointed out that a recent study showed that body cameras could cause more use of force incidents against officers, but Wilson noted that the study’s authors said the causes of those incidents could not be definitively stated, and therefore could not be attributed solely to the presence of body cameras. This, Wilkins said, actually made the case for further research on body cameras — which the pilot program would provide. Strike two!

Finally, the union was arguing that the body cameras were a change in working conditions and thus covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Wilkins decided that Massachusetts law gives police commissioners authority over uniforms and equipment, and in his opinion, body cameras qualified as such. Strike three!

BPPA president Patrick Rose did not respond to request for comment, but told Commonwealth Magazine that he was “disappointed in the court’s ruling.”

As of Monday, the body cameras are now, finally, on 100 officers (and an additional 7 supervisors, including Chief William Gross).

“I think the cameras are going to show folks just how difficult the job of a police officer really is while – at the same time – exposing and highlighting the widespread professionalism that exists in Boston Police Department,” Gross told the BPD’s news site.

Despite the time and trouble it took to get the program off the ground, a BPD spokesperson told the Associated Press that it began without a hitch on Monday.