Mayor Announces Next Steps Towards Implementation of Body Cameras
Building on his commitment to prioritizing public safety and continuing to build strong police-community relations, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, together with the Boston Police Department and in partnership with Dr. Anthony Braga and Dr. Jack McDevitt of Northeastern University, has released the final report on Boston's body-worn cameras pilot program. The overall findings of the report indicate the small, but meaningful benefits that the placement of body cameras have on encounters between residents and police officers. As a next step, the City of Boston plans to expand the body-worn camera program through a phased-in approach and the City is engaging in conversations with the police unions.
"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."
"I'm proud of our officers for taking this pilot seriously and for continuing the hard work they do every day," said Police Commissioner William B. Evans. "The results from this study show there is positive impact in the use of the body cameras. While the numbers in Boston are low, there is always room for improvement. If using technology like body cameras can help further improve the way we police, I'm happy to see the City's commitment to full implementation."
"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."
The findings indicate that body cameras generate small but meaningful benefits to police-citizen encounters, specifically in terms of officers receiving fewer complaints (approximately one fewer complaint per month), and fewer use of force reports (slightly less than one use of force report per month).
Importantly, in the years prior to the pilot program, citizen complaints and use of force reports have been decreasing. 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.
These declining numbers can be attributed to robust training in unconscious bias and de-escalation. BPD recruit classes have been participating in fair and impartial training since 2016 and an Effective Communication training since 2017. In 2016, the BPD Academy also provided in-service training on Police Response to Mental, De-Escalation, and Use of Force Review, as well as a department-wide E-learning course on Bias Free Policing.
"The findings of the randomized controlled trial suggest that the placement of body worn cameras on Boston Police officers generate small but meaningful benefits to the civility of police-citizen civilian encounters," said Dr. Anthony Braga, Northeastern University researcher. "The study finds that officers wearing cameras received fewer citizen complaints and generated fewer use of force reports relative to officers who did not wear cameras. The presence of the cameras seem to de-escalate the potential for confrontations between police and citizens."
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. As a result of the findings, the report suggests that:
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.
"I'm grateful to BPD and Northeastern for thoroughly reviewing the pilot program, and to the Mayor for committing money to implement a permanent body camera program, a technology that not only serves our officers but also the community, and has real potential to build more trust between the two," said City Council President Andrea Campbell.
Based on preliminary analysis of the pilot program, Mayor Walsh proactively included a $2 million investment in this year's budget for the adoption of police-worn body cameras, covering start-up costs and the purchase of up to 400 cameras. This builds off the initial $500,000 set aside in FY18 for the body camera pilot program. Program costs for the first three years are estimated at $8.5 million, with annual recurring costs after FY21 estimated at $3.3 million, however final costs will be dependent on several factors and are subject to change.
Building on the BPD's commitment to transparency and strengthening the relationship and level of trust between officers and community members, 100 officers participated in a year-long body-worn camera pilot program that concluded this past September. As part of the one-year pilot program, BPD officers outfitted with body cameras generated roughly 38,200 videos that covered more than 4,600 hours of police work in Boston neighborhoods.
Mayor Walsh, Commissioner Evans and members of the Boston Police Department have shown a way forward in police-community relations with part one crime falling by 18%, and arrests being down 23%. In addition to appointing the most diverse police leadership in Boston's history, Mayor Walsh has committed to building a diverse talent pipeline for Boston Police by reinstituting the cadet program to train and recruit candidates from all backgrounds for the police academy.
As a way to further strengthen police-community relations, in June 2017, Mayor Walsh announced reforms to the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel (CO-OP Board) and Complaint Mediation Program to provide a neutral location for the public to file complaints (Civic Engagement Cabinet). These reforms have led to an increase in the number of cases reviewed (from 10 percent to 20 percent) and automatically refer cases for immediate review that involve allegations of discrimination or use of force resulting in serious bodily injury.