District 2 Police Corps Camera Listening Session Raises Questions About Confidentiality, Methodological Issues

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WORCESTER – Residents at Monday’s penultimate public listening session on the city’s plan to implement a body camera program next year had questions about privacy and whether the perceived need of cameras had a foundation in scientific or academic research.

The Human Rights Commission organized listening sessions in each city council neighborhood since summer; Monday night, it was District 2’s turn; the commission met at the gymnasium at St. Bernard’s Church on Lincoln Street and offered to participate online.

The city administration said it was move forward with an ongoing body camera program next year which builds on a 2019 pilot of the devices. Community members said they wanted officers fitted with cameras sooner than that, but city officials decided to wait for a state task force to review the cameras. corporelles publishes its findings.

Resident Daniel Arnold told HRC he was concerned that without randomized control studies, the city might not fully understand the real impact of the pilot program. He asked if it was possible for the city to make another pilot with a more scientific approach.

“Who do we compare the group to which we piloted? Arnold said.

He also said that if the city goes ahead with the program, he would like the officers’ ability to control the operation of the cameras to be highly regulated.

Arnold said that for the program’s estimated annual cost of $ 2 million, he believed the money could be better spent on additional training on implicit bias and de-escalation, as well as the deployment of mental health clinicians and clinicians. ‘domestic violence experts with police on some calls.

He said the current body camera literature notes that their effectiveness in a given community is contextual. Previous studies have shown that in some municipalities there are high profile cases that illustrate that these communities are in dire need of improvement. But, he said, in a city like Worcester, where the force is professional and there are relatively few incidents of use of force, he wasn’t sure body cameras were the answer.

Sample size “small”

Police Lt. Sean Murtha said the pilot’s sample size, at 20 officers, was small. But he also said the goal wasn’t to make the pilot a scientific study – it was to try out the technology and see how it affected policing the city. He said he didn’t think there was time for another pilot program.

Police sergeant. Carl Supernor has stated that at this point the city is beyond the control group. He said the public asked city council for the camera program and the council asked the city manager to go ahead.

“This is the path we are pursuing now,” Supernor said. “I don’t think we’re going to back down. It would just slow things down.”

On the issue of officers’ discretion with cameras, Murtha said during the pilot, officers had limited discretion. With a few exceptions – inside a hospital or investigating a sexual assault, for example – cameras had to be on.

Body camera images are considered public record. Resident Matthew Whitlock said he is concerned the body cam program is attempting to grant exemptions currently outside the law. The legal definition of a public recording is any recording generated by a public body, he said – only certain recordings are exempt.

He said he was also concerned that officers could review the footage before writing their reports. If camera images and reports are legally admissible, they must be independent.

“They should be independent sources of what happened that can be compared to each other,” Whitlock said. “My recommendation is that officers cannot review the images before filing reports.”

Public recording of camera images

Deputy City Attorney Janice Anderson has agreed that the body camera images are considered public record; She said a common exception that would prevent the footage from being released would be if it involved domestic violence or was linked to a reported sexual assault. She also pointed out that there may be instances where images are redacted for privacy reasons.

Winifred Octave asked a basic question: What is the sole purpose of a body camera program?

Murtha said there are several goals. He said cameras, generally, will be on when officers interact with the public. He said the footage can capture critical incidents of all kinds and create an objective record of what happened. He said cameras have the potential to defuse situations – he said someone might be less likely to “raise the stakes” if they know they’re being taped.

The images can also be used in training situations, such as an active marksmanship exercise, to allow officers to see how they have performed under stress.

Murtha said cameras can help police investigate complaints against officers, and he said cameras bring an extra level of transparency to the department – people want to know if their police department is acting appropriately. .

Elyse Waxman said she was concerned about an individual’s privacy right after the fact and asked what would happen if a victim of domestic violence couldn’t say she didn’t want to be recorded in the moment .

Supernor said that during the pilot, officers would inform residents they were wearing a body camera and ask them if they had a problem entering the house with a camera recording. He said if an officer were to make a quick entry to “save lives” he would not have to stop to take these precautions. Once the emergency was under control, the officer would resume questioning the resident about the camera, he said.

Murtha pointed out that recent Supreme Court case law has specified that officers do not need to notify residents if they are checking in inside a home if they have consent to enter. What they legally see on sight wouldn’t be different from what a camera records – it’s just information, he said.

Anderson said even if a victim of domestic violence were recorded, the city would be banned from disclosing the footage due to legal protections separate from privacy concerns.

In response to a separate question on consent, Anderson also noted that since cameras are clearly visible parts of officers’ uniforms, they are not legally required to announce that they are recording.

The final listening session will be in District 1. It is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on October 18 at the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, Inc., 16 Brooks St.


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