The Codcast: Police body cameras are coming

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.

But Walsh is now apparently on board with the idea. “I think the mayor realizes the positive benefits to this, I know I do,” Evans told a City Council subcommittee last month.

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.”

That makes it sound like a policy where truth is the ultimate victor. A recent Boston Globe story underscored this point, citing disputes in recent cases in which cameras provided support for accounts offered by both civilians and police.

There are important details of Boston’s body camera policy still to be worked out. One critical issue will be the policy related to failure to activate a camera in a setting where it should be on, or turning off or muting cameras, as happened last month in the moments after cameras captured the police killing of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man in Sacramento, California.

“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.”

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The Globe says the Massachusetts Senate is in disarray, with its leadership unclear in the wake of the scandal set off by former president Stan Rosenberg’s spouse, who is now facing a raft of criminal charges; one recent member under corruption indictment; and another bagged recently on drunken driving charges. A Herald editorial rips Rosenberg for his past efforts to paper over the questionable activity of his spouse, Bryon Hefner, who was indicted last week on multiple charges related to sexual assault. Adrian Walker says the transition to a new leader should happen sooner rather than later. (Boston Globe) Gov. Charlie Baker says Rosenberg should resign if it’s established that he knew about any of the alleged attacks committed by Hefner. (Boston Herald)

Ramon Torrecilha, the president of Westfield State University, and Christina Royal, the president of Holyoke Community College, say the state needs to step up on public college funding. (CommonWealth)

Tamara Small of NAIOP urges lawmakers to do climate resiliency right. (CommonWealth)

Four of every 10 Massport workers earned more than $100,000 last year. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The state’s Civil Service Commission overturned the suspension of a Rockland fire lieutenant, the department’s only African-American, saying the 30-year veteran of the department was the victim of  “disparate treatment” in discipline by town officials. (Patriot Ledger)

The Mandaean community opens an office/meeting space in Worcester. Mandaeans are an ethnic religious group originally from Iraq and Iran and Worcester is home to the largest Mandaean community in the United States. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Responding to US tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum, China imposes tariffs on a host of US products, including pork and fruit. (Associated Press)

Donors made immediate responses to NRA appeals but a study of the organization’s recent filings show some shaky underpinnings and uncertain long-range financial stability. (MarketWatch)

President Trump, in a series of tweets, said any deal on DACA is “dead” and said Mexico and NAFTA are to blame, even calling on Mexico to build its own wall on its southern border. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

If Democrats reclaim the House in this year’s midterm elections, it would put Massachusetts reps Richard Neal and Jim McGovern in line to chair two of the chamber’s most powerful committees. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Lenox officials approved regulations for short-term rentals that, among other things, require homeowners to live in the homes they rent out. The regulations will now go before voters for approval. (Berkshire Eagle)

Today is the first day the state will accept applications for licenses for retail marijuana sales, and officials are expecting a lot of interest. (Boston Herald)

After a brief lull, rents in Boston are rising again. (Boston

EDUCATION

Jon Clark, co-director of the Brooke Charter Schools in Boston, tells parents and students not to bemoan the harder, next-generation MCAS test. (CommonWealth)

Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget would boost education aid by less than 1 percent in more than 60 percent of the state’s school districts at a time when school spending is increasing by about 4 percent annually. (Boston Globe)

Nick Donohue of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation says student activism on guns is also blazing an important trail for education. (CommonWealth)

Fall River police are planning a heightened presence after a shell casing was found in a bathroom at an elementary school. (Herald News)

Brockton is among a growing number of schools in the region using a software “sentinel” designed to monitor social media to identify threats to schools and students as they occur. The system has some learning to do, though, to distinguish between a bomb threat and a “bomb thrown by Tom Brady,” both of which trigger alerts. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Massachusetts is asking the Trump administration for the ability to limit the number of drugs available to Medicaid patients. The hope is that by limiting the number of drugs the state will have more leverage with manufacturers on drug prices, which has been rising dramatically. (New York Times)

A top federal official moved to block research funding to examine the link between alcohol advertising and underage drinking at the same time that the his agency was wooing the alcohol industry to pony up millions of dollars to fund research on the potential health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. (STAT)

The state is preparing a launch a long-awaited website this spring that will provide residents with information on health care costs for various procedures. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

Beginning today, the Sagamore Bridge will have only a single lane open each way for maintenance and repairs until Memorial Day weekend. (Cape Cod Times)

The MBTA is boosting its bus service, including with the launch this month of an extension of the Silver Line to Chelsea. (Boston Globe)

The Eagle-Tribune provides an update on the MBTA’s installation of a new system called positive train control that is designed to prevent collisions.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Transmission developer Edward N. Krapels offers his recipe for developing renewables. (CommonWealth)

An official with the largest residential electric supplier in the country slammed Attorney General Maura Healey’s “one-sided report” on the industry and said Healey did not speak with anyone in the industry prior to releasing her report last week. (State House News)

The state is planning on purchasing a 53-acre site in Mattapoisett to allow the town to preserve it as open space. (Standard-Times)

CASINOS

MGM Springfield has set up training programs as it prepares to do a lot of hiring in a region that needs jobs, but whose workforce often lacks the skills needed for positions. (Boston Globe) The casino has posted about 2,400 jobs, which would be one of the largest hiring efforts in Springfield’s history.

MEDIA

Conservative columnist Joe Fitzgerald says radio host Laura Ingraham is an embarrassment to conservatives with her personal attacks on Parkland, Florida, high school student David Hogg and NBA star LeBron James. (Boston Herald).

Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 193 television stations around the country including WJAR in Providence, has been ordering its news anchors at all its stations to read a script on-air condemning “fake news.” The company and its right-leaning owners have been known to distribute “must run” content to its stations touting President Trump and his policies. (New York Times)