'Small but meaningful benefits' lead to Boston expanding police body cam program

BOSTON — The pilot program for body cameras worn by Boston Police Officers showed 'meaningful' benefits, according to a new report jointly released by researchers at Northeastern University and the City of Boston.

The report calls says cameras yield 'small, but meaningful benefits' in encounters between residents and police officers.

After reviewing the results, the City of Boston and Mayor Marty Walsh are committing to expanding the program.

"Boston is a model city in our nation for having strong police-community relations, and our goal is to continue building trust and positive relationships between law enforcement officers and community members," said Mayor Walsh. "This study shows the potential value that body cameras can have as part of our overall strategy for strengthening ties between law enforcement and the residents they serve. I am proud that we will be moving forward on this, and look forward to seeing how this program will further support the transformative progress we have made in community policing."

The report states officers received fewer complaints (approximately one fewer complaint per month), and fewer use of force reports (slightly less than one use of force report per month).

"The Body Worn Camera Pilot process and study have been very important in understanding firsthand what members of the community believe will help the city move forward and how technology can play a role," said Boston Police Superintendent in Chief William Gross. "I look forward to the opportunity to lead our officers in adding this program to our community policing strategy and strengthening relationships across this city."

From 2013 to 2017, the number of complaints against officers decreased 46 percent, from 350 complaints in 2013 to 189 complaints in 2017. Additionally, use of force reports generated by BPD officers between 2013 and 2017 decreased by 52.3 percent, from 107 reports in 2014 to 51 use of force reports in 2017.

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One hundred officers participated in the pilot program, which concluded last September. The body cameras generated about 38,200 videos that covered more than 4,600 hours of police work in Boston neighborhoods.

In addition to quantitative data, the report also offers a descriptive analysis that includes perceptions of the body camera program from the perspective of officers, advocacy groups and members of the public. This analysis offered insight on the many different components involved in a body camera program, including overall attitude towards cameras, quality of police community interaction, improve investigations of police misconduct, privacy, training, review of video, quality of audio and video, use of video in officer training, dealing with individuals in crisis and use of video in court.

Based on a preliminary review of the pilot program, the report suggests the following guidelines:

  • A process should be developed to make the public aware of any implementation process;
  • A review process should be established to assure that videos exist in all appropriate cases, and that documentation exists in cases where a video was not recorded;
  • A formal process should be developed for transferal of videos from police to prosecutors, and from prosecutors to defense attorneys.

Walsh included $2 million in this year's budget for the adoption of police-worn body cameras. That amount will cover the start-up costs and the purchase of up to 400 cameras.

The timeline for when the cameras will be rolled out is still unclear. The city is currently talking to police unions, but the commissioner stresses that complaints against police and allegations of unlawful uses of excessive force have been plummeting through the years.

MORE: Results of BPD body camera pilot program released