Frequently Asked Questions
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What is BPCAT?
BPCAT, short for Boston Police Camera Action Team is a community organization dedicated to not only equipping all of our city's officers with body cameras but also drafting a community influenced policy that officers would follow once equipped with the body camera. BPCAT strives to make sure that the public is included and has a say in how the body camera operates. This will ensure that the body camera is a tool used to protect both officer and citizen and not just a tool that the officer can use against the citizen. Membership is city wide and has reached about 50 members who are dedicated to the cause.
What is a body camera?
A body camera is a small camera worn by a police officer to record interactions with civilians. Body cameras come in different sizes and shapes and can be placed on different parts of an officers uniform, including his/her glasses, lapel, etc,.
Why are body cameras useful?
Video is powerful proof of what actually occurs during these interactions. Whether a police officer uses excessive force or responds to a legitimate threat, the body camera records it all. Should a case end up in court, these recordings are tools for lawyers who can use them both to defend innocent clients and prosecute guilty ones.
Are body cameras effective?
Studies have shown body cameras to be effective both at reducing use of force by officers and at reducing complaints about police misconduct. For example, in 2012 after body cameras were introduced in Rialto, CA, on about 70 officers, use of force was reduced by 60% and complaints against officers were reduced 88%. There have been many more studies since the Rialto study in both smaller and greater department sizes. In 2014, the Mesa Police Department revealed a 48% reduction in citizen complaints and a 75% decline in use of force complaints after equipping 50 officers with body cameras. In 2015, the San Diego Police Department also released a report on 600 officers, showing drastic reductions in use of force and complaints. Use of "personal body" force fell by 47%, total allegations fell by 60% and even pepper spray use fell by 31%. Every study, thus far, shows that body cameras absolutely work and are useful for both the officer and the citizen.
How will the city pay for body cameras?
Due to increases in demand and market competition, body cameras have been rapidly decreasing in price. Boston also has a very well-funded police department which brings in significant amounts of money from drug busts. We hope that the valuable support body cameras provide to lawful police interactions will convince the city to put some of its budget towards equipping its officers with them. However, should the city not be able to fund the purchase of body cameras, there are a number of federal grants available to help. An excellent list of federal grants that include funding for body cameras can be found at the bottom of this page. It should also be noted that President Barack Obama announced on December 1, 2014 that the federal government would set aside $75 million of $263 million earmarked for community policing toward purchasing body cameras for some 50,000 police officers nationwide. Local and state police departments would only have to match half of the cost. This, coupled with the options listed above, will significantly reduce the cost for purchasing and maintaining body cameras.
Isn't having cops constantly filming a big privacy violation?
Body cameras do have the potential to violate the privacy of citizens so it’s important to have effective policies on when and how cameras are used, how the footage is accessed and used afterwards, and how long it is kept. BPCAT was sure to cover these and more in our policy and it is our goal is to ensure that cameras are in use only during enforcement actions and not to have them constantly spying on citizens. The ACLU explores this issue in depth in their article Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win For All.
What disciplinary actions will follow if an officer violates the body camera policy and how will we make sure that it is carried out effectively?
The disciplinary actions that will follow if an officer violates the body camera policy vary depending on the manner in which the policy is violated. The policy outlines specific disciplinary measures consistent with police policy. Reference Sec.9 “Disciplinary Measures For Improper Use of Body Camera,” of our proposed policy for specifics, http://www.bpcat.org/national-reports-and-studies/. In regards to effectiveness, implementing a strict policy in which officers must abide by is the first step. We must also take steps to ensure that violators are disciplined accordingly by commanding officers.
Why Boston? Are body cameras really necessary here?
There is a misguided notion that the city of Boston is immune from the rage and riots we bore witness to in Ferguson and later Baltimore, but in reality we are just one incident away. As a national leader in almost every field, Boston should strive to become the first city in the nation to proactively implement a city-wide body camera program along with community-drafted policy to not only help improve police and community relations but to also avoid waiting for a situation like Ferguson and/or Baltimore to happen here before we act. Body cameras are a necessary tool, not only in Boston but everywhere. The video footage that a body camera captures has helped and will continue to help give the world a real look into police and citizen interactions. In turn, this footage will also contribute to solutions regarding police and citizen interaction issues. Without video evidence we would continue to overlook a growing and alarming issue.
Body cameras have been around for a while. Why did you decide to start this group now?
People wake up to reality and what’s happening in the world around them at their own time. For the “Boston Police Camera Action Team,” we were all on one accord and felt that it was time to take action. Furious about past tragedies, our sympathy, sadness, anger and the wanting to contribute toward a solution that will help prevent police brutality and violence is what bought us together.