Boston police resist peer pressure on body cameras

As police forces across the country start saying “yes” to body cameras, can Hub police continue to equivocate?

The Boston Globe finds that State Police are working on a body camera pilot program.  The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police are on board. Chelsea wants cameras by the end of 2015 and Worcester has them under review.

 

Boston police appear to be reluctant to get into the ball game. The department issued a vaguely worded statement to the Globe.  Mayor Marty Walsh, who could be responding to cues from the police unions, is not a convert yet, either.

Cameras “aren’t going to help with the fundamental problems between community and police,” Walsh told the Globe.  In a conversation with WBUR before the Ferguson grand jury verdict, the mayor said the cameras “weren’t needed” here.

Boston appears out of step with the national mood. The family of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed in a confrontation with police officer Darren Wilson, put the nationwide campaign to promote body camera usage by police departments in motion.

In a bid to improve the relationship between police and the people they protect and serve, President Obama responded Monday by proposing that $75 million of a $263 training and reform plan fund 50,000 body cameras.

Big city police departments are embracing this trust-but-verify stratagem. This week, Philadelphia announced a six-month, all-volunteer testing program in one of its “busier” police districts.

In Rialto, California, (where at least one officer has a camera on his sunglasses), police began studying the technology in 2012. In the first year of the program, the use of force by Rialto police dropped 60 percent and complaints against police declined a whopping 88 percent.

Experts say body cameras may make police think twice before engaging in certain types of behavior and may also cut down on the number of lawsuits filed against police departments. A US Department of Justice community policing analysis found that the technology allows police to capture evidence; provides an officer’s-eye view of encounters with civilians; and, most importantly, restores a sense of transparency and accountability to those interactions.  

The fast-developing technology is not a cure-all. A camera can’t capture all angles of every encounter and most encounters are open to multiple layers of interpretation. Police officers will have to make judgment calls, such as determining whether to use audio-only recordings if a witness does not want to a video statement.

Federal officials recommended that departments conduct pilot programs and get community input before implementing department-wide procedures.

The Pandora’s box of technology is open and Boston can’t close it. The Boston Police Camera Action Team, a local citizens’ group, is already pressuring city councilors to support their effort.

Police work, especially in communities of color, will continue to face heightened scrutiny. Right now, Boston is proving to be an outlier in a post-Ferguson world – one that will come under increasing pressure to get behind body cameras.

GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Ira Jackson, whose commission has proposed controversial pay raises for a number of elected officials, and state Sen. Robert Hedlund of Weymouth, the longtime GOP lawmaker who says public officials are paid plenty when compared to the average taxpayer, battle it out on Greater Boston. Jackson also joins Jim Braude on Broadside.

The Patrick administration confirms a long-time employee at Elder Affairs has been fired, but declines to comment further. The employee, Peter Antonellis, said he was terminated for publicly criticizing the agency’s oversight of assisted living facilities.

State Sen. Stan Rosenberg, who is poised to become Senate president in January, is fending off criticism over his domestic partner mocking outgoing Senate President Therese Murray on social media and bragging about the influence he’ll wield under Rosenberg. CommonWealth profiled Rosenberg in its fall issue.

State Rep. Carlo Basile of East Boston will give up his seat to become chief secretary in the Baker administration, a post overseeing appointments to board and commissioners, the Globe reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Brockton City Council has voted to approve an additional $500,000 in legal fees rather than settle a $68 million lawsuit by the owners of the proposed controversial power plant in the city.

Boston hires a new chief diversity officer as a new report finds Latinos are woefully underrepresented in city government. In the Fall 2013 issue, CommonWealth documented the racial gap in leadership positions not just in government but also the private sector.

The Lawrence City Council wants to meet with Mayor Dan Rivera to school him on his duties, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is taking flak from fellow Democrats and others over her opposition to an Obama nominee for a Treasury undersecretary post.  

Ashton Carter, a longtime Harvard faculty member, appears to be poised to be named defense secretary, replacing former Republican senator Chuck Hagel.

A new report shows federal spending accounts for a fifth of economic activity across the nation, but the level of spending varies dramatically from state to state. Massachusetts is in the second-to-highest tier, Governing reports.

There is an old saw about not kicking someone when they’re down, but Tom Farragher finds that John Tierney, ousted from his North Shore congressional seat by Seth Moulton, provides a good exception to the rule.

ELECTIONS

Fall River‘s Election Commission says there was a slight increase in voter registration before last week’s deadline in advance of the December 16 mayoral recall election.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Professional solicitors hired by charities keep more than half of the money they raise for themselves, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

The New Bedford City Council approved increasing the property tax burden on businesses despite the vocal opposition of small business owners in attendance at the meeting.

East Boston is booming.

EDUCATION

A new report indicates Boston teachers hit top salaries faster than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, CommonWealth reports.

HEALTH CARE

Two decades after a Boston Globe reporter died of a medical error at a top Boston hospital, hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts patients are still suffering from medical mistakes, WBUR reports.

John McDonough examines how the new Congress will try to derail the Affordable Care Act.

More than 300 people packed a public hearing in Quincy to rail against Steward Health Care‘s plan to close Quincy Medical Center at the end of the month despite a state law requiring 90 days notice and its contract with the Attorney General. Prior to the meeting, Steward officials unveiled their plan to provide medical services to the city’s residents after the hospital’s closure but the proposal does not include a previously announced satellite emergency room as officials had announced.

A patient at Mass. General Hospital is being closely observed for possible signs of Ebola virus infection.

TRANSPORTATION

The feds authorize $1 billion for the Green Line Extension, State House News reports.

A Devens official tells the Ayer Board of Selectmen that he is working to bring train service to the redeveloped military base, the Sun reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A New Jersey company is exploring building a 451-megawatt power plant fired by natural gas in Methuen. The plant would only operate during peak demand periods for electricity in the summer and winter, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Salem hopes to cut the electricity bills of its customers by aggregating them together for bulk purchasing of power, the Salem News reports.

A UMass tuna study sheds new light on how the fish spawn, the Gloucester Times reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Worcester City Council approves the purchase of surveillance cameras for two city neighborhoods, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Texas prepares to execute a schizophrenic man who tried to subpoena Jesus, Time reports.

A Los Angeles lawyer and blogger who was a longtime public defender and sat on that city’s Office of Independent Review, a civilian oversight board, has outlined a proposal for independent investigations into police shootings, citing CommonWealth‘s report on the use of deadly force from earlier this year.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

MEDIA

Scot Lehigh, generally suspected of being one of those get-off-my-lawn geezer types, uses his column today to remove all doubt.