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Body Cameras for Boston Police

Complaints concerning the shooting of unarmed individuals, such as the Ferguson, Missouri teen Michael Brown, as well as reports of racial profiling by police have led to calls for better police oversight. One way to evaluate law enforcement is through wearable cameras. As more and more cities begin to implement the use of small wearable video cameras for law enforcement, will Boston police take on body cameras?

In New York City, a federal judge ordered the police department to test body cameras for one year in five different precincts in order to evaluate how effective the cameras could be to prevent the use of unconstitutional stop-and-frisks. Commissioner William J. Bratton said that 60 cameras will be used during this initial rollout, although participation will be voluntary. Before announcing the program, police officials went to Los Angeles to observe that department's camera program.

The call for police body cameras may increase as the result of a recent American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report which found racial bias in Boston police encounters. Their analysis found that between 2007 and 2010, 63 percent of police encounters were with black civilians, while the black population in Boston accounts for only 24 percent. These findings are based on a review of more than 200,000 field interrogation and observation (FIO) reports. As a result of these findings, the ACLU is recommending the police wear body cameras, and be more transparent about the FIO encounters.

Police dispute the ACLU's conclusions, stating they should not be likened to the controversy surrounding New York's "stop-and-frisk" policy. The Boston Police Department argued they aretargeting gang members in high crime areas. They have also reported changes to the department's FIO program since 2010 to make the program more fair and effective. Mayor Marty Walsh has stated he is focused on a culture of change across the city, and will continue to address the problems outlined in the report.

One local news agency has reported that wearable cameras could soon be in use with some Massachusetts police departments. However, this has been problematic in the past because of tough privacy laws, and push back from the strong state police union. Since the Ferguson violence, the ACLU and the Boston Police Camera Action Team, a local community action group have demanded Boston police use body cameras.

Now, as many as 50 state police departments are considering the use of body cameras. Worcester plans to implement the use of body cameras on their officers by early next year. Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme has said, "it's the technology and if it can assist us in better policing our community, we think it's worth taking a look at."

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans has indicated they are considering the move, but for now, they are watching what will happen in Worcester. Evans has said he likes the cameras, but the department probably won't start using them any time soon. They cite the cost of the cameras as a negative factor. However, one police group studying the use of body cameras found that when police do have them, complaints against police drop dramatically.

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