Police body camera advocates say they want more answers on when cameras will come to Boston

Sgt. Chris Wicklund of the Burnsville Police Department wears a body camera beneath his microphone
A body camera worn on the chest of a police officer in Minnesota. –AP file

Advocates for police body cameras expressed frustration Tuesday with the timeline of when Boston police officers would start recording their encounters with civilians.

Tuesday’s City Council committee hearing on the proposed body camera pilot program followed three neighborhood meetings last week hosted by City Councilor Andrea Campbell, the chair of the public safety and criminal justice committee.

It would have been an opportunity for advocates to talk to and hear from Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, who has expressed skepticism about the need for body cameras in Boston. But Evans and his deputies were instead at a funeral for a Boston police officer who died last week. Campbell said she understood and would schedule another hearing in the next few weeks.

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“Today was another day of no answers and more questions,” said Segun Idowu, who has pushed for body cameras in Boston for the last two years as one of the founders of the Boston Police Camera Action Team.

City Councilor Tito Jackson, who sponsored the order for the hearing, said he wanted to see body cameras in Boston “yesterday.” He said he understood why Evans couldn’t be there, but said it was crucial to have conversations with police to move forward.

“The city of Boston is known for our community policing and it’s absolutely critical we have 21st century community policing,” he said.

But first, Boston police and others need to figure out the policy that will govern how the body cameras will work, answering questions like when the officers should turn the cameras on and off, how long the footage can be stored and who can view it. The voluntary pilot program will include 100 officers and at the end of the six months will be studied by a researcher to evaluate the cameras’ effectiveness.

Some advocates have questioned whether Evans and other police brass want to see body cameras succeed. Alex Marthews, president of Digital Fourth, a coalition focused on digital privacy, told city councilors that it seemed like Evans was being dragged “white-knuckled” into the program.

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“Someone who claims it isn’t needed isn’t going to devise a good policy,” Marthews said.

Jackson, though, said he trusted Evans.

“I take people at their word,” Jackson said. “The commissioner said they would be involved and they’d take us seriously.”

If police officials don’t come up with a pilot program, Jackson said, the council can bring a vote on an ordinance to do so.

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