Police body cameras are coming
Segun Idowu weighs in on The Codcast
It’s been a long march for the Boston Police Camera Action Team, but nearly four years after the community-based group set out to push Boston police to have officers deployed with body-worn cameras it looks like victory is in sight.
In recent days, Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner Bill Evans have both signaled that body cameras are coming to Boston.
“We are happy that the mayor is listening the majority of Bostonians now,” says Segun Idowu, a cofounder of the group, on this week’s Codcast.
Walsh has hardly been a consistent backer of the idea. In a 2017 campaign debate, he pointed to a recent study in Washington, DC, raising questions about the benefits of body cameras, and as recently as January he said he was “not convinced yet” of their benefits.
The biggest practical hurdle now is funding, with police estimating it will cost $5 million to $7 million to equip officers with cameras and launch the program.
A pilot study among Boston police showed modest reduction in citizen complaints about police behavior associated with use of cameras, though it found no link to the incidence of police use of force in encounters with civilians.
The Boston group pushing for body cameras was formed four days after the 2014 “death, or murder, I would say, of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri,” says Idowu. He and co-founder Shakia Scott initially considered going to Ferguson to lend support to protests there, Idowu says, but then concluded a better use of their energy would be to focus on Boston “to prevent a Michael Brown from being shot and killed on Warren Street.”
Eschewing street protests in favor of lobbying and advocacy, Idowu says the Boston Police Camera Action Team viewed itself as “the policy wing of the Black Lives Matter movement here in Boston.”
The main Boston patrol officers’ union waged an unsuccessful legal effort to block the body-camera pilot study, and the union president didn’t return a call from CommonWealth last week inviting him to join Idowu for a conversation on the issue. But Idowu says he and members of his group had lots of conversations with Boston police officers over the past several years and found that they were almost universally in favor of body cameras.
“I cannot think of an officer that we spoke to that did not want the camera,” he says. “If anything, several officers said to us they are suspect of officers who don’t want body cameras because it would indicate that they may be doing something bad.”
Civilians wanted cameras “in response to what we were seeing around the country: young black men being shot and killed by police officers,” says Idowu. “For officers here in Boston, it is entirely their perspective that they do a lot of great work, which is true, and that they are sometimes attacked verbally or viciously by those they are trying to protect and they want cameras to show the restraint that they show in dealing with people.”
“Misuse or abuse of body cameras” without consequences for officers “completely negatives the purpose of having them to begin with,” says Idowu. “The whole purpose of body cameras was to establish transparency and accountability.”