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Report: Body cams may help reduce citizen complaints against Boston officers

The preliminary report found fewer complaints filed against the test group during a one-year period


By Bob McGovern
Boston Herald

BOSTON — Body cameras may help reduce citizen complaints against Boston police officers, according to a new report analyzing the city’s pilot program, but advocates say they still need to know more about how they would be used.

The preliminary report released yesterday, produced by Northeastern University researchers working with police officers, found fewer complaints filed against the test group during a one-year period — 17 for 140 officers with cameras vs. 29 for the control group of 141 officers without cameras.

Whitestown Police Department officer Reggie Thomas holds a body camera that he wears while on his shift, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015 in Whitestown, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Whitestown Police Department officer Reggie Thomas holds a body camera that he wears while on his shift, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015 in Whitestown, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

“In general, these analyses suggested that the placement of (body-worn cameras) on BPD officers seemed to reduce the incidence of citizen complaints,” the report states. “The impact was twelve (12) fewer complaints filed against officers equipped with BWCs over the one-year intervention period which amounts to one less complaint per month compared to control group officers.”

The evaluation into the body camera program will continue through May, and a final evaluation report is expected in June. The BPD implemented the body camera program in September 2016.

“Nationwide, the impact on body cameras has been varied,” police Commissioner William B. Evans said in a statement. “Waiting for the results of the full analysis is prudent and necessary to really understanding the context and setting in which body cameras may have the most impact.”

Segun Idowu, co-founder of Boston Police Camera Action Team, said he hopes the final report adds meaningful information about the program to go along with the data points cited.

“We want the next report to focus more on what policies work and what policies don’t work,” Idowu said. “How comfortable were officers? What issues did they run into?

“The subjective stuff helps tailor this program to Boston,” he said. “The program is going to be different in every city, so to make sure it works for Boston, we need to address the issues that Boston has.”

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, said in an email that he hopes “other indicators” are taken into consideration when analyzing the program.

“We need to consider the impact body cameras have on community trust,” he said. “At a time of growing tension between law enforcement and communities of color, a properly implemented body camera program will help to provide the accountability that is necessary for building community trust.”

The analysis determined that there were seven fewer so-called “Use of Force” reports filed by officers who had body cameras.

The analysis looked at the effect of 100 body-worn cameras on patrol officers in five police districts and plainclothes officers in the Youth Violence Strike Force. The selected officers worked the day and first half shifts and were actively providing police services to Boston residents.

According to the report, the small number of officers tied with the “low base rates of citizen complaints and officer use of force reports” makes it difficult to fully understand the impact of the body camera program.

©2018 the Boston Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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