Walsh to Fund Body Cameras Citywide after Successful Pilot

April 13, 2018
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Mayor Martin Walsh officially announced on Monday that he would fund the citywide rollout of police body cameras for the entire force – including officers in Charlestown – in his upcoming City Budget – a $2 million expenditure for the first year’s rollout.

The announcement came on Monday as the mayor began to highlight initiatives that would be part of his upcoming City Budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, which runs from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.

One piece of that budget many were wondering about was the expenditure on the body camera program, which got positive reviews from the police and the public in a Council hearing on the matter last month.

“Boston has become a model for strong community policing and our goal is to continue building trust and positive relationships between residents and law enforcement,” said the mayor. “As Boston continues to grow as a city, and as technology continues to evolve, it’s important that our public safety services grow alongside to keep Boston safe and make a positive impact in our neighborhoods.”

Council President Andrea Campbell said she was happy to see the investment of $2 million to begin the rollout citywide. The City had spent $500,00 last year for a pilot program in certain police districts, but not in Charlestown. The Citywide Gang Unit, however, did have participants.

“This budget reflects a strong commitment to improving public safety in our neighborhoods, and equipping our law enforcement with the tools and technology they need to successfully keep our neighborhoods safe,” said Campbell. “I am grateful to the Mayor for his continued investments in programs that serve our youth and that address neighborhood trauma, and for including funding for the body camera program.”

In preliminary data unveiled at a Council hearing on Monday, March 12, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said the Boston Police body-worn camera pilot has been a success to date.

“The preliminary results are for the most part all positive,” he said. “I haven’t heard one complaint from the officers who are wearing them. I think a lot of them were encouraged by the cameras. I think it helped quell some disturbances they run into. When people see they’re on camera, sometimes they take it down a little bit. I think we’re seeing the value of taking it to court, especially in cases where we have it all on video. I know the District Attorney’s office likes them and the defense attorneys like them. Procedurally, in court, they’re good… I think the department, although a little reluctant to jump into it at first, has seen that it protects their members and helps us tremendously as we deal with the public. Sometimes, we deal with a public that unfortunately is not too nice to the police.”

The hearing before the Council was a first look at how the program has been going since implementation last June. Officers in five police districts, including the city-wide Youth Violence Task Force were involved. Charlestown’s police district did not participate in the pilot.

Full results of the comparative study, which is run by Northeastern University, will be revealed in June.

However, Evans said, to date, they have 38,200 videos, and 4,600 hours of footage. He said on two instances, frivolous complaints against officers were dismissed due to the video footage that exonerated the officer in question.

“They sort of back our officers on frivolous complaints,” he said. “The preliminary year data show we had 12 less civilian complaints against us in the year, one for each month, which is significant for 12 months. We also had seven less use of force incidents.”

Northeastern professor Anthony Braga, who is heading up the study, said that Boston’s rates of use of force and civilian complaints are very low in their base rates to start with, so measuring any change is hard to do.

That was unlike the Las Vegas Police Department, where he did another study on cameras. There, the base rates were very high, so there was a lot of room to study movement.

That said, preliminary results show that there was a statistically significant change in the reduction of complaints for those wearing the cameras versus those not wearing them.

“These are very low base rates and a relatively small sample in one year to observe a change in behavior…,” Braga said. “When we did the statistical analysis, we found some very small impacts relative to the size of the sample…For those officers that wore the camera versus those who didn’t, those wearing the camera had 12 fewer complaints…For use of force, the reduction was seven. We were able to confirm this relatively modest reduction in complaints was significant, meaning we didn’t observe it by chance alone. It wasn’t moving up or down by random fluctuations. The use of force was on the smaller size so it was hard to confirm that wasn’t just a chance occurrence… Stepping back and looking at it as a whole, it suggests these are small, but notable, improvements in those two dimensions.”

He said they will continue to analyze the data and the video footage that has been taken. Another thing they will analyze is whether there was change in officer behavior. Some believe that wearing the camera causes police to be less proactive, so Braga said they will analyze the numbers of arrests, incident reports and FIO stops made by officers participating in the pilot.

Officers were selected at random in the pilot districts and had numerous demographic and professional differences as well. Officers wearing the cameras had them on at all times while on duty. They were turned off on officer personal time. They were also turned off in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault. They were also turned off, if requested, when going into people’s homes.

“We ask people when we’re going to their homes on the threshold if they want the camera on or off,” said Evans. “If they don’t want the camera on, it is turned off once the officer goes inside.”

Charlestown Councilor Lydia Edwards indicated at the hearing that she is a supporter of the program, stating that it brought accountability to the police and the public.

 

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Northeastern professor Anthony Braga talks about the preliminary results that have been found in the pilot study of police body cameras over the last year. So far, he said, there is a statistically significant change in the numbers of civilian complaints on officers who wear cameras versus those who do not. A full report on the program is expected in June. Also pictured are Professor Jack McDevitt, Commissioner William Evans and Police Supt. John Daley.