Staties say no to body cams as the BPD weighs its options

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Staties say no to body cams as the BPD weighs its options

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Boston police are taking a wait-and-see approach to body cameras — and state police are taking a pass — despite new federal dollars being up for grabs to provide cops with the equipment in a pilot program.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday announced a $20 million Body-Worn Camera pilot program meant for 50 law enforcement agencies, the first installment of a three-year, $75 million program. The feds will offer a dollar-per-dollar match for police departments chosen based on “a strong plan for implementation” along with a “robust training policy,” feds said.

Boston police Commissioner William B. Evans said the department is still reviewing its options, but is not ruling anything out at this point.

“BPD is taking a close look at implementation by other police departments to see what will work best in Boston,” he said.

State police say they have no plans for body cameras but are considering a “pilot program to install dash cams in a limited number of cruisers to evaluate their value to our policing mission,” spokesman David Procopio said.

But Chelsea police Chief Brian Kyes said he wants a body camera for all 111 of his officers.

“We’re all about transparency. We’re all about accountability,” Kyes said. “The police are the most visible form of government out in the street. … Often times, there can be a lot of controversy around police-citizen interaction. Having the incident recorded is for the benefit of both sides.”

Cops’ need for cameras has become a hot-button issue nationwide in light of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in Missouri, New York City and South Carolina. Violent interactions between cops and citizens in those states were at least partially caught on camera and sparked civil rights marches nationwide. Riots erupted in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, where the death of Freddie Gray led to six officers being criminally charged.

Arlington police Chief Frederick Ryan said his department isn’t pursuing the federal grants, but may consider seeking body cameras in the future.

“In Massachusetts we have the added challenge of having to bargain with unions,” Ryan said. “Cameras would enhance the trust of the public and police, but they wouldn’t be the panacea. Good, sound community policing is essential to make any electronic improvement, including body cameras, succeed.”

Kyes said his department will also need union approval if the feds accept its proposal. He said he envisions a camera for every officer, and expects to equip patrol officers — 75 percent of his agency — with the body cameras for daily use.

But some issues of privacy have to be worked out, especially when police duties take officers inside private homes, Kyes said.

“Can you say, ‘Shut it off’?” Kyes said. “And if you do say that — should we shut it off? … There’s a lot of trickiness about it right now.”