Council hears feedback on police body cam proposal

Caption: A group gathered in First Parish Church last Thursday to discuss a pilot program for Boston Police to wear body cameras. The meeting was facilitated by City Councillor Andrea Campbell. Maddie Kilgannon photo

City Councillor Andrea Campbell facilitated several discussions over the last week on a proposed body-worn camera pilot program for the Boston Police Department.

On Tuesday, May 3, the city council heard testimony on the issue from advocates at Boston City Hall. The hearing followed three community meetings, including one in Dorchester that was convened at First Parish Church last Thursday, April 28.

Approximately 75 people, including eight uniformed police officers, attended last Thursday evening’s meeting at the First Parish Church on Meetinghouse Hill. Representatives from the local branches of the NAACP and ACLU also attended the meeting. Councillor Campbell said that turnout was the largest of the three community meeting she had hosted on the issue.

“Tonight is not a formal hearing, and that is intentional,” Campbell told the audience. An emergency prevented Police Commissioner William Evans from attending the meeting in Dorchester. Evans has publicly stated that he does not feel that the BPD needs body-worn cameras.

Boston Police Officer John Daly, who is responsible for the pilot program, addressed concerns about where the data collected by the cameras would be stored and the overall privacy of the system. Daly said that the BPD is planning on putting out a request for a third party vendor to store some of the data.

Councillor Campbell conducted an informal poll by a show of hands to gauge how long the people at the meeting felt the data should be stored. The results were mixed, but roughly half of the group raised their hands to support keeping the data for up to six months.

“Is this program to test the equipment or to test the accountability?” one person asked.

“Both,” Campbell responded.

On Tuesday, many of the same activists who attended one of the earlier community meetings, turned out at City Hall for the formal. Due to the death of two police officers in the past week, there were no BPD officials at the hearing.

Councillor Campbell began the hearing with a moment of silence and promised that she would hold another hearing later in May in which BPD officials would be present.

Segun Idowu, a co-organizer of the Boston Police Camera Action Team (BPCAT), called the hearing, “essentially a fourth community meeting” and said that there has been so much discussion and little progress so far.
Carlton Williams, an attorney for the ACLU, echoed the sentiment.

“We, as a city, should be further ahead of where we are right now,” said Williams.

Muska Nassery shared an experience she had as a law student teaching a class on Constitutional Law at the Jeremiah E. Burke in Dorchester. When she was teaching the class about the Forth Amendment, she casually asked if any of her students had ever been stopped by police.

To her surprise, every single one of the students raised their hands. The body camera program could help to improve those kinds of interactions, she said.

A policy still needs to be developed for the BPD, although both the ACLU and BPCAT have developed their own versions. There is currently no set date for when the pilot program will be officially launched.

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