Boston Police Union Loses Challenge to Mandatory Body Camera Policy

A Massachusetts judge has denied a request by the Boston police union to block a mandatory program that will install body cameras on officers. Members of the Boston police department argued the program violated a collective bargaining agreement, however, the judge was not convinced and allowed the body camera pilot test to proceed.

Boston Initiates Pilot Program to Test Police Body Cameras

In response to increasing concerns about police interactions with citizenry, the Boston Police Department (BPD), the city council of Boston, and the police union began discussions about a body camera program in October of 2015. During the course of the negotiations about what such a program would look like should it be implemented, the police department and the officer’s union became increasingly concerned about the efficacy and safety of body cameras. Some studies of body cameras, including one conducted by the Rand Corporation, have suggested that officers may be at increased risk of assault without notable improvement in reducing police violence.

Despite lingering objections, the BPD and the city of Boston signed an agreement in July of 2016 which instituted a pilot body camera program for 100 officers. In order to gain a population of officers, the police union sent out a memo to its membership soliciting volunteers, however, in part due to an increasingly negative attitude from union leadership towards the program, not a single Boston police officer out of the more than 1,200 who were eligible formally volunteered.

In response to the lack of interest from police officers, the Department announced in August that it would make the program mandatory and select 100 officers to wear body cameras. 

Boston Police Union Files Grievance over Mandatory Body Cameras

Almost immediately after the announcement that the body camera program would become mandatory, the Boston police union filed a grievance arguing that the decision to force officers to wear body cameras not only violated the July agreement to pilot the program, but also the collective bargaining agreement. Further, the union argued that the police body cameras would put officers in jeopardy, and argued the city had not done enough research to protect officers before making the program mandatory.

According to the union’s request for an injunction, police officers were being forced into a potentially risky situation by wearing body cameras, and the city had no authority to unilaterally execute that policy. Boston’s police union felt that forcing unwilling officers to take the risks of body cameras was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, and illegal. The lawsuit requested an injunction putting a stop to the program which would force the parties to continue a negotiation process designed to work on a mutually agreeable proposal.

After hearing oral arguments and reviewing the issue, a local judge in Boston disagreed with the police officer’s union, and directed any disagreement to arbitration rather than judicial intervention.

Massachusetts Judge Allows Mandatory Body Camera Policy to Proceed

Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled against the Boston police union and allowed the city to proceed with its mandatory body camera pilot program. Judge Wilkins was unimpressed by the union’s position that body cameras would put the officers at an increased risk because the union did not provide sufficiently reliable evidence. In dismissing that line of argument, Wilkins wrote, “The Court is not persuaded that BWCs are more likely to increase risk to officers than to reduce it… Nothing in these studies establishes sufficient irreparable harm to warrant an injunction; on the contrary, an injunction could harm the public interest in obtaining whatever benefits the Pilot Program may provide.”

Further, Judge Wilkins was not convinced that the judiciary was the appropriate arena for the union’s dispute. The collective bargaining agreement between the city of Boston and the police union contains provisions for mandatory binding arbitration when the two parties disagree on a policy or program. Wilkins wrote that the mandatory pilot program did not violate the union’s bargaining agreement in such a way that the arbitration process would need to be avoided in favor of a lawsuit, and the body camera dispute can be taken to arbitration should the program prove to be unsatisfactory to the union.

Barring continued legal action, the Boston PD will likely institute a body camera pilot program in the near future. 

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