Group Continues Push to Get Cops to Wear Body Cameras
While Mayor Marty Walsh is in no rush to force Boston Police officers to wear cameras strapped to their chests, a group dedicated to bringing more accountability to the department, amidst racial tensions and protests across the country in response to the controversy in Ferguson, Missouri, is ramping up its efforts to call for video surveillance equipment to be part of each officer’s uniform.
“We have been mobilizing since our inception, albeit under the radar. We have had several meetings with community organizations and leaders who have aided us in shaping a policy for body cameras,” said members of the Boston Police Action Camera Team, or BPCAT, in an email to Boston.
Instead of merely standing on the front lines with protesters who have been marching through the streets, calling for vast improvements to how police officers use their weapons and treat black citizens, BPCAT has been quietly drafting the proposal so that the Boston Police Department will adopt and enforce on-person surveillance equipment.
“BPCAT has had several meetings to this end and has requested a meeting with Commissioner [William] Evans through his office, and [we] are looking forward to hearing back shortly,” said members of the group, which first formed back in September by launching a website and accompanying social media accounts detailing their mission statement.
Walsh said Monday that he is more focused on building relationships between officers and people in the community, rather than relying on cameras to fix racial disparities, but BPCAT believes policing the police with the use of surveillance still needs to be considered, since similar efforts like the ones suggested by the mayor have lagged in the past.
“We are excited about Mayor Walsh stressing the importance of having difficult conversations surrounding race and police-community relations in our city. However, the co-organizers founded BPCAT because it was felt that there has always been too much conversation about having such a conversation and, in the interim, not enough action is done,” they said. “We have had innumerable conversations in the past already regarding race and community relations with the police. Body cameras are a reasonable first step toward rebuilding trust with the community as well as showing that this issue deserves more than forums, community meetings, and just [a] conversation.”
The concept of requiring body cameras has gained more prominence following the recent death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager that was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri last August. The details surrounding Brown’s death, which has ignited a debate about the divide between those paid to protect and serve and the people of color in their communities, were conflicting, and ultimately led to a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer, Darren Wilson.
The idea reached the White House, where on Monday President Barack Obama proposed setting aside $75 million for up to 50,000 body cameras for officers across the country. Just outside of Boston, Brookline Police even floated the idea to their followers on Twitter, which led to an in-depth conversation about the pros and cons of equipping officers with cameras.
BPCAT members said they know there’s a lot that needs to be considered before something like this comes to life, and that body cameras are not the “silver bullet” that will “end police brutality and systemic racism,” but they consider the fact that people, including the president, are having these conversations “a huge step forward.”
“We are grateful President Obama decided to take that step with us,” said the members of BPCAT.