25 Investigates

25 Investigates finds access to body camera footage inconsistent in Massachusetts

QUINCY, Mass. — Amid the 2020 police reform movement in Massachusetts, state leaders promised body camera footage would provide the public with more transparency.

Since then, the state has announced over $10 million in grants to launch body camera programs in more than 110 police departments.

But years later, 25 Investigates finds Massachusetts still does not release body camera footage in a consistent or timely manner.

“If it is the case that your local police department simply shrugs off public records requests or ignores the press when they want information about a shooting or an incident captured by a body-worn camera, that’s a problem with your local democracy,” Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said.

25 Investigates sent out public records requests to 316 local police departments statewide – seeking copies of policies, stipends paid to officers, storage costs, as well as body camera footage released to the public in 2023. As of Monday, about 55% of police departments responded to 25 Investigates’ public records requests sent in early January.

25 Investigates found that at least 60 local police departments – from Boston to Leominster, to Salem – have a body camera program up and running as of January 2024.

Overall, 18 police departments provided body camera footage to 25 Investigates without an additional cost or lengthy wait.

At least 20 other police departments either requested a fee or said it would be too costly and time-consuming to go back and individually review and redact all released footage. Another 17 police departments said they did not receive any public records requests for body camera footage in 2023.


In 2022, a statewide task force proposed recommended regulations for body cameras.

That report offers guidance on issues from storage, retention, and training to release.

But transparency advocate Annemarie Grant of Quincy said it is time for Massachusetts to update that report and provide more detailed guidance on the release of body camera footage.

Grant, who co-founded the Impacted Families coalition, attended Zoom meetings held by the state body camera task force.

The 27-page report briefly discusses the release of body camera footage – it says in part that the release of footage involving an “active criminal investigation or prosecution” should be governed under the public records law.

“If that’s the holy grail of recommendations, it’s really lacking,” Grant said.

Meanwhile, police officers from Salisbury to Taunton told 25 Investigates they want a uniform, more detailed policy on the release of footage.

“Right now, there’s so much inconsistency,” Salisbury Police Chief Tom Fowler said. “I think some chiefs may be afraid to release it, not knowing the impact of releasing it.”

“There’s a lot of factors as to where the event took place, which jurisdiction, and then the makeup of the police department and the decisions made, whether it’s released or not,” Fowler said.

Other police officers are calling for the state to provide clarity on tough issues facing local departments – including how to handle requests by domestic abusers, how to decide whether to blur faces of uninvolved parties, and whether there’s a need for a statewide office to store and release body camera footage instead.


Annemarie Grant said she knows firsthand the transparency that body camera footage can offer in situations where law enforcement officials are slow to provide answers.

Grant has fought for better public access to body camera video in Massachusetts and elsewhere since 2015 when her brother Thomas Purdy died in a Reno, Nevada jail.

“He was killed by law enforcement in Reno, Nevada, during a mental health crisis,” Grant told Investigative Reporter Ted Daniel. “Hogtied and asphyxiated to death.”

Grant received video footage showing her brother hogtied for over 30 minutes. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit and received a $100,000 settlement.

Grant says she has made dozens of requests for body camera footage in Massachusetts – mostly for officer-involved shootings.

Grant provided 25 Investigates with a breakdown of nearly 30 public records requests she made from 2020 through 2022 – including for incidents where BPD officers used firearms or Tasers.

“My personal experience with them has been delays, denials and, administratively closing my requests,” Grant said.

“They use an exemption denial that it’s an open case,” she said.

Crockford with the ACLU said the question of whether body cameras can improve transparency hinges on how police respond to requests for body camera footage of alleged police misconduct.

“If there’s a shooting, if the police are accused of mistreating someone, and we suspect there’s body-worn camera footage of that event, the police are in a really difficult spot in terms of denying the public access to that information and then simultaneously saying that the body-worn camera program serves public accountability and transparency,” Crockford said. “Because if they’re only releasing the footage in cases where the video reflects well on the police, then that’s really not what the program is all about.”

Family members aren’t always guaranteed access to body camera footage: in 2020, a Boston police reform task force recommended “unfettered access to BWC footage” for next-of-kin or recorded individuals. But by 2021, BPD had not adopted that recommendation.

Grant said another issue is particularly troubling: instances where she learns that body camera footage does not exist for a particular incident.

That happened for two of her requests in 2022, for one request in 2021 and another in 2020. In two other cases, police did not indicate whether body camera footage existed.

Grant said she wants more oversight over whether police officers are turning on body cameras and ensuring they are filming without obstructing the view.

25 Investigates found instances where Boston’s Civilian Review Board found officers did not keep their body-worn cameras on for the entirety of interactions with the public.

In one case, the board unanimously voted to not sustain an alleged violation of departmental policy during an Oct. 17, 2022 incident.

An anonymous complaint to the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency said a police officer allegedly entered a home “without permission and intimidated them.”

The decision said: “As seen in the body camera footage, the officer should have kept his body-worn camera on until completely exiting the residence. The CRB further recommends that the officer keeps their body-worn camera on for the duration of the interaction and until they leave the residence.”

In another 2022 incident, a complainant alleged a BPD officer in an unmarked vehicle “abused power and treated them disrespectfully by throwing a ticket at them.”

“While this case was found to be Insufficient Evidence by the Board, the CRB noted that the body-worn camera referenced in the police report as being activated by one of the officers on scene was not available when requested during the OPAT investigation,” reads the decision. “This is concerning to the CRB, but was not a factor in this particular disposition.”

Grant also wants the state to require mandatory use of body cameras by law enforcement.

On Beacon Hill, Rep. Russell Holmes said he supports the expansion of body cameras by police as well as correctional officers.

“I believe that anytime there’s an interaction between police and community, between corrections officer and those that are incarcerated, I think it’s just always good for the public to be able to look back and for police to look back at any activity that’s happening,” he said.

Holmes said he spoke with state police recently and heard from senior leadership that officers are feeling “better protected” with the advent of body cameras.

“There’s still complaints against the police, but now they can go back to that moment and refer back to that moment and correct officers if there is something inappropriate, but then also communicate back to the public if they feel like the officers, were in line with what they did or said,” Holmes said.

Holmes said above all, there’s a need for a better, standard procedure for the release of body camera footage.

Holmes said he hopes lawmakers will make headway on legislation addressing body camera footage this year.

“I’ve signed on to several pieces of legislation regarding, body camera footage,” he said. “I believe they’re going to all come together as one, because we’re going to look to take ideas from all the different pieces, and we’re hoping to get that done and over the finish line this year.”


The state’s initial plan allotted $20 million in funding to purchase 9,000 cameras over five years.

But in some instances, even communities that won body camera funding have yet to launch their own program years later.

In 2022, the Groveland Police Department announced it won $12,905 for body-worn cameras.

But on Monday an email to 25 Investigates, Groveland Lt. Heather Riley said: “The Police Union shut it down. We do not have body cameras.”

That story played out in other towns too: police departments in Wilmington and Stow failed to come to agreement with their police unions – a key requirement needed to receive any funding from the state.

25 Investigates also found at least a dozen towns provided a pay boost or extra vacation day to officers who agreed to a body camera program: from a 1% pay increase in Foxboro, an extra holiday day in Wellfleet, to a $1,200 annual stipend in Great Barrington.

Storage of body camera footage – along with bills for cameras themselves – can also be particularly costly for police departments: Southborough’s Select Board in 2022 approved the use of $38,922 in pandemic relief funds for “police body camera data storage and warranties.”

Some police departments used in-house servers to store footage, while others use cloud servers that can cost below $1,000 a year.

25 Investigates found police officers are also facing other mounting costs and challenges: to the use of AI tools to blur faces, to the security of in-house servers storing body camera footage, to the cost of dealing with body camera footage requests from car insurance companies.

ACLU’s Crockford said Massachusetts should consider tasking the job of storing body camera footage to a statewide office instead.

Lopes said police departments are increasingly finding that body cameras can help clear officers of wrongdoing – while also providing transparency the public wants.

“I think we just have to realize that in 2024, we’re going to have to spend money for quality service to the public,” Lopes said.


Police agencies can decline to release records that could jeopardize an investigation under Massachusetts’ open records law – if law enforcement officials are clear about how the release could hurt prosecution.

25 Investigates has requested body camera video from the state police four times since October.

Massachusetts state police lawyers said two of the videos were from cases still in court and releasing them could “prejudice the possibility of effective law enforcement.”

We didn’t receive any response to the two other requests, including one for “the first recorded interaction any trooper had” in December.

Still – 25 Investigates has found instances where police have released footage involving some open cases, but not others.

For example: Boston police have not released body-worn camera footage of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s police driver crashing into another car in Roslindale last year.

But Boston has released other body-worn camera footage - including video of the car crash involving former Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara.

BPD spokesperson John Boyle said he’s working on a response to 25 Investigates’ questions about apparent inconsistencies in the release of body-worn camera footage.

Kade Crockford, with the ACLU, said police must do a better job explaining why a video’s release may imperil a criminal investigation.

“It’s not always the case that the existence of a criminal case or a prosecution precludes the release of that information,” Crockford said.

Rep. Holmes said police are sometimes quicker to release footage that appears beneficial for them.

“When the community is demanding, we want this footage now, that seem to move a lot slower,” Holmes said.

Holmes added: “It should be the same when you think you’re right on an issue and when it might be a concern for the community, it should be the same standard operating procedures, in any incident.”

Boston police detective Jeffrey Lopes – president of MAMLEO, the union that represents about 600 minority law enforcement officers in Massachusetts – said valid reasons to withhold or redact footage include the need to protect the privacy of victims and witnesses.

“We should be holding police department accountable,” Lopes said. “There should be no reason why if something can be released, it’s not released. If you pick and choose, people will start to think you’re trying to hide something.”

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