Judge Green Lights Boston Police Body Camera Pilot Program

BOSTON, MA — The Boston Police Department’s body camera test program can continue and the the commissioner has the authority to assign cameras to officers, according to a ruling Friday that rejects a Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association call to pause the pilot’s roll-out.

The BPPA requested an injunction after Boston Police began randomly assigning officers to participate in what was supposed to be a voluntary program. Police Commissioner William Evans, who took the stand this week, said his department opted to assign the body cameras after no officers volunteered for the pilot.

In court this week, the BPPA asked to delay the program, saying they agreed to the pilot and are in favor of continuing, but need more time. Attorneys invoked recent events such as the shooting of police officers in Dallas as grounds to delay the program and give officers more time to acclimate to the idea.

The city argued the police union has been actively discouraging members from participating.

The ruling handed down Friday in Suffolk Superior Court suggests that while BPPA formally supported the program, there is sufficient evidence to believe that, “At minimum, the BPPA has not conveyed a strong message of support for officers to volunteer for the (body-worn camera) program.” The judge’s choice to deny BPPA’s injunction stands despite well-documented concerns from and lack of information available for officers who had questions on the program, the court records state.

The judge did not see a high chance of “irreparable harm” from proceeding with the pilot, was not convinced by evidence presented by BPPA suggesting body-worn cameras could put officers in harm’s way and, finally, suggested the grief caused is largely “self-inflicted.”

“The court agrees with both sides’ witnesses that, with active efforts by the BPPA to recruit volunteers from its ranks, at least 100 volunteers likely would have materialized — certainly not zero,” the judge’s order reads. “Had the Union mobilized even a small part of its membership, the Pilot Program would have proceeded as a voluntary program, avoiding the negative impacts allegedly flowing from the Commissioner’s order.”

In short, Associate Justice Douglas Wilkins wrote, agreeing to the injunction would have “rewarded the BPPA for its lackluster efforts.”

In the wake of high-profile officer-involved shootings across the country over the past few years, advocates nationwide have called for increased transparency from police departments. The introduction of body-worn cameras is seen by supporters as a way to resolve disputed claims, particularly in police shootings of black men, which have led to mass protests and scattered violence in other cities.

The idea has support here from numerous community groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. Carl Williams, with ACLU-M, told Patch he isn’t aware of another case in the country of court action to delay implementation of a police body camera program.

In a statement shared by The Boston Globe, BPPA president Patrick Rose said he was disappointed in the ruling, “but also said the union believed it was obligated to defend its contractual rights through the courts.”

“If we don’t challenge the City when they violate signed agreements, then how can we enforce agreements in the future?” he wrote. “The BPPA is still committed to working with the City and the Department to make sure the citizens of Boston get a body-worn camera pilot program that does what it is supposed to do, while respecting the rights of citizens and police officers alike.”

According to the Globe, Rose did not indicate whether the order will be appealed.

Evans’ initial reticence toward the program evolved to a full embrace of body-worn cameras as a tool of transparency and community trust-building. Impeding the program, he said in court this week, makes it appear as if police have something to hide.

Evans weighed in on the court’s decision in a statement Friday:

“I am pleased with the Court’s decision to allow the pilot program to move forward. I remain committed to working with the BPPA and their members to ensure a smooth implementation of the program. It is my honor to serve as commissioner of one of the best police departments in the country and I commend the work being done every day by my officers. It is their continued efforts that make the Boston Police Department a national model for community policing.”

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